Can't talk now... I'll text you.

18 Aug 2010|Added Value

Thirty-thousand text messages. This is the number of messages 16 year-old Melissa recently revealed to me that she had sent from her mobile phone the previous month. Let’s do some quick math: that’s approximately 1,000 texts every day. Assuming she sleeps 8 hours a day that leaves 16 hours of texting time, or about one text a minute every single day. Yikes!

When I heard this, I literally had to pick my jaw up off the table. I challenged the six other teenagers in the room to compete with my one-every-minute-a-day texter. While none could top her, they still astounded me with the sheer quantity of messages leaving the devices they have grown to rely on as their preferred method of communication.  And my group wasn’t unique – according to Pew Internet and American Life Project the typical teen, age 12-17, sends 112 texts per day. Cleary, far less than our hyper-texting teen, but still impressive.

Pew Internet: # of Texts Per Day

This prompted me to ask the question, just how reliant on text communications is the average teenager? And at what cost?

In a recent Cheskin study focusing on emerging communication technologies, most teens noted discomfort when placed in a room with others and asked to engage in one particular thing – for example, having a meaningful conversation with a friend or watching a movie with a group –  without other distractions (such as a mobile phone) available. Reliance on multi-tasking and a need to ‘finish up’ past conversations were the cause of such pain, the teens noted.

Texting has not only become the teens’ preferred way to exchange the very latest (as in, a nano-second ago) thought that pops into their heads, but more troubling is that the absence of their phones makes them anxious and at a loss for words and even ideas. Given that when their phones are glued to their hands there is no shortage of things they MUST share with whoever it is on the other end of the line, how can such chatty teens change their demeanor so dramatically when only the device is absent?

In an interview with a Los Angeles-based history teacher of 20 years,  NPR.com’s Jennifer Ludden reports that students are increasingly shy and awkward in person due to constant immersion in text conversations. Teens admit they use texting to avoid confrontation or uncomfortable situations.  A recent New York Times article about the fictional novel, my Darklyng, unfolding via a fake Facebook page, highlights the tendency for teens to ‘dramatize’ their lives and emotions and stylize their mannerisms online. Perhaps for increasing numbers of teens, they feel more interesting online so why not spend most of their time there. With a digital network as a shield from real life scrutiny, good ‘ol thinking on one’s feet without a keyboard intermediary is becoming obsolete.

Today, this means sending an email to the teacher explaining why homework is late. Or, breaking up via a text message. But how will this generation fare as business leaders when uncomfortable situations arise? Will we live in remote office settings where face-to-face meetings are so yesterday and texting protocol becomes the new entry in employee handbooks? Will ‘making a good impression’ be thought of as a well-crafted Tweet?

Sacred ground is already breaking – Sheryl Connelly, a cultural trends tracker for Ford Motors is lamenting the days when a car was the symbol of staying connected to the youth subculture and with each other. She observes that these days Smartphone’s and the Internet do the cultural connecting and there’s a continued downward trend in teens getting their driving licenses at 16. In my day, the perk of turning 16 was the freedom to drive away from mom and dad and towards the chosen meeting spot with friends. I guess being physically with friends is no longer necessary…the phone is the new meeting spot. How times have changed. WTF? PLZ Xplain.
B4N.

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