My kids taught me to text. They all have cell phones that they rarely answer except if I am calling, the condition that I set for paying for all their texting. But if I want an immediate response I know better, I text. Texting is actually quite convenient for taking care of the mundane details that can often jam up the works between all the kids and their various schedules. Increasingly I hear about their sorrows and joys over text too, although usually those exchanges put me into autodial on the phone. Come to think of it, most of the “love u’s” come through text now too.
Our basic need to connect and communicate is in the process of another significant face lift. The endless hours that I stretched the cord from the kitchen wall around the dining room table for some privacy and spoke endlessly to a couple of my closest friends is folklore now. Most people don’t even have phones in their kitchens. We still do, just for old time’s sake, but my kids rarely pick it up anyway. They know that no one would call them at that number. They have their own.
The shift to personal phones was just the beginning of cell-phone technology although I am still partial to real voice exchanges. In my memory and my mind, hearing a voice, even when I am far away connects me to that person and gives me a chance to hear an inflection. I can hear my children’s moods on the phone, harder to decipher in a text. Emoticon choices are only a small piece of the communication I have learned, the subtlety of text relationships is being invented among our youth and there are some reasons for concern.
A recent Pew Research Center report found that half of American teenagers 12-17, send 50 or more texts a day, a third send over 100 a day. Two thirds of the teens said they are more likely to text a friend than call, and more concerning still is that less than a third reported talking to their friends face to face. Not surprisingly, another recent study showed that kids between the ages of 8-18 spend 7.5 hours a day using electronic devices. Is all this techno time connecting with friends really substitute for the complexity of what happens in human relationships when people are together without their phones?