This article, with a few actual data points, is claiming that texting is replacing phone calls among kids. The article comes to this conclusion without also commenting on whether this is good or bad thing. But even their stats don’t completely prove the point (not that I’m actually disagreeing with it). A text requires about 5-15 seconds to check whereas a phone call is a more significant investment of time, so it’s no surprise that checking for texts would dominate in frequency. But what about duration? The study doesn’t actually say is how much time kids spend texting vs how much time spent talking. Or what it doesn’t say is whether kids actually call, sometime, the same people they’re texting or do they only text to these people. Or what might interest me, do they text (only) the people they don’t care much about and call their favorites as well as text.
Now if any of you have distant relatives how often do you email or some other computer exchange vs phone calls? Even though long distance no longer has the high cost premium (or even zero) I still find that phone calls, among adult family members, are less frequent than electronic contacts, because the electronic contact is a much lower investment of time. A phone call, esp. to someone you don’t call that often, can’t last 30 seconds – that would be rude; so you end up talking a while and thus you avoid doing this very often. While this is not sound statistical evidence, nonetheless there is ample anecdotal evidence to suggest that simple contacts are easier through electronic exchanges, but this doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t talk.
I’m beginning to shift my focus to distinguish between texting and other social media and not just lump them together. texting is merely a replacement for calling (remember the hours teens used to spend on the phone) whereas social media, even the simplest, takes a bit more effort and time, but also represents a different interaction (one-to-many, usually, rather than one-to-one).
But it’s the texting that we notice the most. Anywhere you go today you see people checking devices for texts, but how many of them are writing blog articles while in a social gathering or even a comment to a post? That takes more time and thought and doesn’t fit so well into multitasking, but texting – trivial. Seconds to check, just a few more seconds to reply. So we do it at high frequency.
Everyone has experienced and commented on the irritation they feel when someone they’re talking to gets out the device to give it priority over the person right in front of them. I saw this a long time ago when kids hanging out in malls would gather in groups but ignore each other and be texting someone else (hey, why not talk the the person in front of you). I see it at every family party I go to, sometime silence for minutes while everyone stares at a device (it’s like yawning, one person looks at their device, then the others see that as a pause in the conversation, so they look too, and finally everyone has done enough looking and F2F interaction resumes – weird)
But I think we’re programmed to do this. Here at home today the phone has been ringing incessantly. I know it’s mostly junk calls but I also am expecting a real call. The phone closest to me is broken so I have to stop what I’m doing and go to another room to check (boo-hoo, have to walk some) just to discover it’s yet another junk call. My point is that long ago, early in the existence of the phone, we got programmed to believe a phone call is critical and something we must respond to. I know very few people, esp. if they can’t see the caller id, who can just sit through a ringing phone (I do it routinely unless I’m expecting a call). Oh, it might be an emergency, oh, it might be a long-lost friend who’s in town, oh, it might be winning some prize. We can’t say no (most of us, most of the time) to this “urgent” interruption. We can easier ignore (and irritate) the person in front of us that ignore whoever is calling.
And texting is just an extension of this, but actually even less of a break, and that’s why it is more common. Answering a phone while with another person is a complete break in attention to the person in proximity, but a quick glance at a text, figure out if it actually might be urgent, no problem. So in some ways, other than texts being more common than phone calls, it’s actually less rude. It probably only irritates us because it is also more frequent (imagine trying to have conversation with someone who responded to calls as often as they check for texts).
I go to visit my 97YO mother once a week. Gradually I’ve gotten her trained to tell her routine callers not to call at that time. Because she could never resist answering the phone and interrupting my visit (and her calls are long). So I used to sit there twiddling my thumbs while she talks to someone else, often even junk callers. I tell her to ignore it, they’ll call back – but she just can’t do it (her spin is that if she doesn’t answer the other person will panic since they know she’s housebound and therefore something must be wrong, again that idea that the phone is somehow connected to emergencies). She can’t see the caller id and thus never knows the call is mostly a junk call and can be ignored (she can’t even hang-up on the junk calls!). It’s not that I’m less important, it’s just somehow that we have the social norm it’s ok to talk a call because somehow that might be something “important”.
So I think we’ll just have to get used to the brief breaks in attention to us when someone checks a text. But, I’ll claim, that if the person we’re with decides to text back, we should just walk away. If that other interaction is higher priority so be it, I’ll go find something else to do. I’m used to this in business where there is a hierarchy. If I’m talking to someone and their boss calls or texts and wants something I expect them to pay attention to that and not take offense at their inattention to me, so I simply go do some other work (probably checking email). So let’s just do this in personal life, recognize our priority is lower than the texter and just go do something else. Do that for a while and I suspect most people you’re with frequently will: a) be irritated at you for leaving, b) stop doing texts while they’re with you, or, c) just ignore you since you are less important.
So actually I also think some of this is just another short-term phenomenon, although texting is now old enough to probably be built into our behavior. I recall, when I started flying on business after a multi-year pause, how irritating it was that everyone felt they had to call everyone they knew before taking off and immediately again upon landing (do people really need to know where you are minute by minute). At that time lots of comedians and other types of commentators were making jokes or rants about this, esp. about people in lines talking on cells, oblivious that they’re forcing everyone else to listen (and half a conversation is irresistible, you can’t not listen). Well, amazing-amazing, that excessive public calling rapidly declined and it was due to: a) the social stigma, and, b) texting and probably other social media, allowing for less intrusive connecting. Now instead of calling five people that you’re now in Seattle, just tweet them and be done with it – quicker for everyone, quieter for your seatmate. So my point is that I think texting is here to stay BUT gradually we’ll get better at incorporating it into F2F interactions so it is less irritating (maybe the Google glasses so no one will even know we’re looking at a text).
So be patient, this will pass. And since I posit that texting is merely substitute for phone I don’t think it goes any deeper and will have major effects on the emotional development of kids (pouring their hearts out to strangers, possibly stalkers, on Facebook, is way different than texting someone they know). So let it go. And, as to considering social media having adverse impacts, study something other than texting.