I considered myself a pretty social kid. I loved to hang out with my friends and would do so at every opportunity possible. If we had an issue that needed to be discussed, we would do so face to face. We’d use the (land-line) phone to arrange our outings, but the joy was in being face to face.
I remember working with a corporate product team about ten years ago. Most of the members of that group were in their mid-twenties at the time. We had an evening at a resort hotel (where our meeting was being held) and we were all sitting around a table by the pool enjoying drinks and recapping the day. But I distinctly remember being continually interrupted by the ringing of cell phones. And, every time one would ring, the person would answer it. It didn’t matter if we were in mid-conversation, suddenly the person on the other end of the phone was more important than the group that was gathered there first hand. It’s not as if these were emergency calls, they were just “other friends” that suddenly rose to the top of the priority list.
Today that has become less of a problem. Because I’m not sure young people even talk anymore. Texting has completely overtaken the culture. According to a recent
Reuters news report, one-third of US teens that have a phone text 100 times per day! The article goes on to say “Text messaging has become so much a part of teenagers’ lives that 87 percent of those who text said that they sleep with, or next to, their phone.” Try having a conversation with any teen and see if you can get through it without them sending or receiving texts to a third party. It’s highly unlikely.
I’m honestly not sure if this is a natural migration of technology, or the result of cell phone pricing plans (where talking minutes have been more expensive than unlimited text plans). But regardless of the cause, I wonder where this will take us as a society. Face to face communication involves things like verbal and non-verbal communication. You can tell by someone’s tone if they are being serious or sarcastic. The tempo of their words can depict their urgency. A pause in a conversation conveys thoughtfulness. None of these can easily be picked up when texting. Through my sons (in their early 20′s), I have seen several cases of misunderstandings via texting that have led to hard feelings, needless arguments and sudden anger. I have a friend that is a High School English teacher that complains that students have a hard time writing in full sentences anymore. And punctuation? Forget about it.
At my company, we observe people to discover needs and develop products to satisfy those needs. I can’t help but think if we were to do a study on texting, we would recommend a multi-phase approach. What if people could actually “talk” to one another instead of just reading fragmented sentence bursts? And as a longer term approach, what if they could actually spend time together and “converse” with one another to really gain knowledge and understanding…
I just have to wonder. Is this a situation where the technology pendulum has just swung too far?