In the last post we talked about some tragedies resulting from texting, a habit that young people have especially embraced. As promised, however, this time we’ll look at the more innocent aspects of this phenomenon.
But first, I can’t help but feel that the late media seer Marshall McLuhan might well be surprised – if not shocked – to see that this recent iteration of the digital age has actually brought young people back to the written word.
And he would be downright speechless over the fact that many prefer it over audio-visual communication. For it was McLuhan who, among other things, predicted that what he called “the electronic age” (television then) was taking us back to the pre-literate tribal era of oral — and aural – communication.
Not so, according to nearly all my college students here at California’s Azusa Pacific University. This week I opened up a lively discussion in two of my classes about preferences of texting vs. calling.
The hands-down winner among these young 20-somethings? Texting.
When I asked how many students send and receive at least 20 texts a day, the room broke out in laughter. “Are you serious, Dr. Willis?” one student asked. “How about 100 to 200 a day?”
I thought she was kidding until others joined in agreement. Turns out the average fell between 100 and 150 texts sent and received in a given day.
And I’m still reeling from that, because I haven’t even made it close to the 20 mark myself.
The most common answers to the question, “Why is texting so popular?” were that texting is quicker and more convenient.
More convenient to type out a 20-word message than to punch in a seven-digit phone number? Yes, they said, especially if you are doing something else at the time … like sitting in class, trying to look like you’re attuned to what your prof is saying. Blackberries and I-phones fit snugly into one’s lap, after all.
One student said her mom used to try to call her several times during the day, and that often those calls would come while she was in class. So the student negotiated a deal with her mom to text her instead.
One senior told me that she will answer texts quicker than she will answer phone messages. During our discussion away from class, her phone did ring, and she ignored it. “See?” she said. “If that had been a text, I might have answered it right away.”
This same student then said that texting has become the preferred way for a young person to show interest in someone he or she has just met.
“It’s a lot less threatening than risking face-to-face rejection,” she said. “And,” she added, “how long it takes for the other person to respond to that text is very important. If it takes more than an hour or two, forget it. He’s just not that into you.”
Texting = Flirting?
In fact, she said many young people have come to equate the term texting, as in “John is texting Jennifer,” to mean John and Jennifer have romantic interests in each other, or at least that they are flirting. On the other hand, to say John has texted Jennifer refers more to a simple exchange of information.
Another student agreed that texting is used as a preferred way of meeting people, estimating that, “Ninety percent of all new relationships begin with texting.”
Have times changed since I was 22 or what?
One sophomore said he texts some people “who I would just find it weird to talk to.” Weird? “Yeah, you know. Some people you just have a hard time talking to. But texting them is different and it often works when talking doesn’t. It’s just not as weird.”
What we’re talking about here is the chilling effect that non-verbal cues can have on a communication exchange. In the world of texting, e-mails, and chat rooms, no such non-verbal cues need exist.
That’s fine, unless you believe you can really know another person without experiencing their non-verbal language. Because you can’t. Most of us care more about how someone says something than what they actually say. That goes for how they laugh (and how often), too.
Still, the first time I realized students come alive more in text is when I taught my first class online, some 12 years ago. After worrying about how a text-based system of real-time communication would work in a virtual classroom, I was pleased to find that online students open up much more than when they are face to face.
I remember one particular moment when a colleague passed by my open doorway and did a double-take when he heard me laughing out loud at the computer screen. The textual exchange had reached the point of hilarity, and I couldn’t contain myself. From that moment on, my fears about online teaching disappeared.
One of my students at Azusa Pacific informed me yesterday that a word now actually exists for the person who can open up online, but has trouble doing it in person. The word is “textrovert,” or that person who is an introvert in the flesh but an extrovert in texting.
It’s a great word and an accurate one. I have taken the same students who sat speechless in a regular classroom, put then in an online room and watched them explode into textual commentary on what I was saying.
Another student posited that texting allows us to focus more on ideas themselves and less on the person we’re talking to. For certain kinds of communication, that’s not bad.
Oops … Make that “s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g”
One problem with texting, opined another student, is bad spelling. And, she said, it is often not seen as a problem by the person guilty of it. “They think they’re getting their message across, but what they don’t realize is others may be making fun of what a bad speller they are,” she said.
And another problem? The occasional student who uses texting language in a college paper. It is not that uncommon to find an occasional “cuz,” “omg,” or other textual shortcut show up in a term paper. Results are predictable and are usually contained within the single letters of D or F.
One other surprising finding from my students: they aren’t that much into tweeting. Twitter seems to have captured only about 10-15 percent of them. Texting works just fine for short-burst messages of 20 or so words, while Facebook or e-mails take over nicely for longer messages.
Is it a different world out there? You bet. But hey, for me and a lot of other college profs like me, it’s just great to see kids falling in love with the written language again.
Sorry McLuhan. You were right about so many other things.