The Problem with a Generation of Texters

Nobody knows how to talk

I was with a friend last night who was slowly getting more and more frustrated by a texting conversation. Someone she used to work with was asking her something, and each time she tried to clarify what they were asking for, it further confused the discussion. Her anxiety levels were rising as the situation continued.

“I don’t understand what she wants!”

I watched this play out for about ten more minutes before I finally said, “Why don’t you just call her?”

She looked at me like I was crazy. “Call her?” She mimicked back.

“Yes… Call her.” We both started to laugh because the idea of calling someone should not have been so shocking.

She picked up the phone, dialed the number, and I listened as they quickly cleared up the misunderstanding. They hadn’t spoken in a long time, so they even went on to have a real conversation about how they were doing.

When she hung up, I asked her why the idea of making a phone call had sounded so strange. She admited that everyone texts now. Calling someone felt too intimate and potentially intrusive. Texting is safer because the person can choose to respond or not respond whenever it’s convenient for them.

I would like to suggest that most of my generation thinks this way. I haven’t done a survey — this is purely my own observation — but the idea of talking on the phone seems to have become a last resort for most millennials. We don’t want to bother anyone or force someone to talk to us if they don’t want to. We have deep conversations, fights, break-ups, make-ups and celebrations all via text.

When people start dating now, it begins with weeks of texting before actully talking on the phone or going a date. Everyone is meeting online now, which I have no problem with, but it creates the norm of messaging and texting first. This can sometimes make for a very awkward first meeting or phone conversation. And of course it would! You’ve spent weeks interacting with that person, and you may know their mothers name, their favorite sports team, their phobia’s and fears, but you don’t know what their voice sounds like. We are becoming more and more mediated by technology, and I would argue that it’s hurting the quality of our relationships.

This kind of thinking is really fascinating to me because I love talking on the phone. My family and many of my friends live all over the world, so I’m on the phone at least once a day.

I actually really hate texting. How do you know when the conversation is over? Technically, it could go on forever. This stresses me out. In fact, 9 times out of 10, if I’m texting someone and it’s either getting deep or getting frustrating, I ask if I can call. I always laugh when someone says no because they’re in class or in a meeting. Why are you texting me then?!

Since I’m not much of a texter, most of my texts or messages happen in order to set up a phone call or FaceTime hang out. For example, my friend Nicole lives in South Africa, and we have a set time on Sunday’s when we’re both usually free. If you read through our texts, they all look exactly like this:

N: Hey friend, I miss you!
A: Hiiiii, I miss you too!
N: Let’s catch up. Are you free at the usual time?
A: Yes! Talk soon. Can’t wait!

These short text conversations are my favorite. Most of my texts with friends and family look exactly like that one. There’s so much value in talking out loud with someone as opposed to texting. You stop missing out on the tone of their words, or the emotions behind what they are trying to say. In a perfect world we would always be able to talk face-to-face, but when we can’t, Skype or FaceTime is definitely the next best option.

I think a cultural shift needs to happen, especially in North America, so that we can value talking on the phone again. We need to remove as many mediators as possible when interacting with others. I know this might be a naive hope, but I really believe we could become community minded and open to being interrupted if we talked and listened to each other more.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we shoudn’t have boundaries — I’m just suggesting that they need to come down a few inches. Let’s relearn how to talk and be willing to make that phone call — even if it feels uncomfortable.

Call me, beep if ya wanna reach me,
When ya wanna page me it’s okay,
I just can’t wait until I hear my cell phone ring.

These are some wise words from one of my favorite female entrepreneurs, Kim Possible. Let’s be more like Kim today.

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