Everyone has a smart phone in this crazy world. We have apps, texting, and access to email all day, every day. Some might even call it 24/7 access to communication tools. However, to me, it seems that the smarter we get with these phones, the less we seem to communicate.
Now before you go calling me a technophobe or a Luddite, or anything else, please note that I have a smart phone and I use it mightily. In fact, I love it. I rely on it so much that it’s always at my hip. I know my students love that I can be reached all the time, and my kids find it handy also. My husband loves to text me to tell me that he’s going to be late coming home from work because then he doesn’t get immediate feedback from me and I have time to consider my words before replying. A phone call does not allow that type of consideration.
What gets us in trouble is when we use these types of tools to replace voice communication. My son, age 12, prefers to text or email a friend to ask him to come over to hang out rather than to call and arrange the date. I was talking with a friend last week, and she told me that her nearly-13-year-old daughter was having some trouble with some girls at school – the typical adolescent friendship triangle where both of the other two girls didn’t want my friend’s daughter to be friends with the other girl. My friend’s daughter felt like she couldn’t talk to the girls at school – there wasn’t time in the day. So my friend suggested that her daughter call each girl. That was rejected as too scary. What my friend’s daughter ended up doing was sending a tentative text to test the waters of the girls’ feelings. My friend was upset – how could she teach her child to communicate when there were so many methods available to avoid full-on communication? She did not understand how the three girls could resolve their differences via text message. And as of yet, they haven’t. They are all practicing studious avoidance – and it’s causing more problems. Some of this is typical adolescence, but some of it is exacerbated by technology as well.
I see it in my students all the time. They sit next to each other and send text messages to each other. In class their phones are on silent but I hear a distinct “hummn” of a vibrated incoming message every few minutes from someone’s pocket or backpack.
My sister-in-law said that a few years ago, she was in the habit of driving carpools for her kids to various activities, and all of a sudden, she realized she had a car-full of six kids from ages 14-16 who were completely silent. All of them were looking down studiously at their phones and texting. No one spoke. I read a facebook status a few weeks ago: “It is imperative when driving that one person in the car stop texting to watch for the light to turn green.” They’re not texting and driving, technically, right?
I am certain that more than 100 years ago when the telephone became ubiquitous that people lamented the lack of face-to-face visits which were being replaced by phone conversations. We had the same crisis-like posts when email came on the scene in full-force, too. This is the same concept. I guess as long as some type of communication is happening and kids are not sitting alone in their houses all the time doing it, we’re still in somewhat good shape.
There is a lot about which to worry in these scenarios, though. Voice communication is going down, as is face-to-face communication. Texting language, in all of its glorious brevity, is appearing in more and more written communication inappropriately. What does this mean for kids now? Well, I think it means more assiduous attention to detail and teaching communication skills. There are times when texting is fine – confirming a meeting time, sending a brief comment. But there are times when a phone call is better – ironing out a problem, expressing love. And importantly, sometimes only a visit will suffice – to a grieving friend or family member. As I tell my students, it’s important to “know your rhetorical situation.” Check your audience and then act appropriately. Do not use texting language when communicating with your professor. Conversely, do not use long words when texting.
All of these methods of communicating could lead to MORE communication between people if it’s all used appropriately. It is up to us, as the teachers and parents of the young people, to teach kids the appropriate ways to do it. Are you up for that challenge? I am.