What about you? Do you prefer a text message or a phone call? Or an e-mail? Be honest, and now we need to ask: What difference does it make?
Statistics from the Pew Internet & American Life Project show that, these days, many people with cell phones prefer texting over a phone call. It’s not always young people, though the data indicate that the younger you are, the more likely you are to prefer texting.
And that’s creating a communication divide, of sorts – the talkers vs. the texters.
Some would argue that it’s no big deal. What difference should it make how we communicate, as long as we do so?
But many experts say the most successful communicators will, of course, have the ability to do both, talk or text, and know the most appropriate times to use those skills. And they fear that more of us are losing our ability to have – or at least are avoiding – the traditional face-to-face conversations that are vital in the workplace and personal relationships.
“It is an art that’s becoming as valuable as good writing,” says Janet Sternberg, a professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University in New York who is also a linguist.
In the most extreme cases, she’s noticed that more students don’t look her in the eye and have trouble with the basics of direct conversation – habits that, she says, will not serve them well as they enter a world where many of their elders still expect an in-person conversation, or at the very least a phone call.
On today’s college campuses, the dynamic is often different. Forget about things like “office hours,” for instance. Many professors say they rarely see students outside of class.
“I sit in my office hours lonely now because if students have a question, they email, often late at night,” says Renee Houston, an associate professor of communication studies at the University of Puget Sound in Washington state.
“And they never call, ever.”
She recalls overhearing students chuckling about the way people older than them communicate.
“My parents left me a VOICEMAIL. Can you believe it?” one said, as if voicemail had gone the way of the dinosaurs.
This doesn’t sound surprising or particularly troublesome to Lisa Auster-Gussman, who’ll be a senior this fall at the University of Richmond in Virginia. For her, there are simply particular tools she uses to communicate, depending on the recipient.
Email is for professors, yes. Phone calls and maybe the occasional text are for parents, if the parents know how to do the latter.
“But I don’t communicate much with older people. So much of my life is set up over text,” says Auster-Gussman, who sends and receives an average of about 6,000 text messages a month.