Texting: A Multi-Generational Phenomenon

When Samuel Morse sent
the first electronic message from the U.S. Capitol to his partner in
Baltimore nearly 170 years ago, he typed “What hath God wrought?”  I
believe nearly every parent of a teenager today might be muttering the
same words.

We are in the midst of four
distinct generations 
of Americans trying to communicate with one
another using different media.  Communication
gaps
 between parents and kids or managers and employees are nothing
new. It’s been the subject of thousands of books.  Experts have made
millions and millions of dollars prescribing remedies to bridge the gaps
and mend fences. But they’ve seen nothing like the gaps occurring today
between the Veterans (born
before 1946), Baby
Boomers (
born 1946-64), Generation X(1965-79),
and Millennials (born
1980-1999)… or have they?  Has anything really changed over the past
170 years?

Take the phone for example: According to Nielsen Mobile, in the
first quarter of 2009, the average U.S. teen made and received an
average of 191 phone calls and sent or received 2,899 text messages per
month. By the third quarter, the number of texts had jumped to a
whopping 3,146 messages per month, which equals more than 10 texts per
every waking non-school hour.  Just for the sake of comparison, at the
beginning of 2007, those numbers were 255 phone calls and 435 text
messages.

It’s hard to believe that little handheld device we used to call a
phone is quickly joining the transitor radio and 8-track cassette in
flea markets and garage sales.  Don’t believe me? Just try calling
anyone born during the 90s or later.  Good luck on getting a real person
on the other end to answer it. Voice mail? Good luck on getting a
listen before it’s deleted. Email? You’ve got to be kidding. That’s old
school, baby.

That makes the term “phone” almost obsolete. Using that mobile device
to call someone is just a vestige of old technology. The older
Millennials, also referred to as theiGeneration because
these young people have been raised on the iPod and the Wii, rarely if
ever use their “phone” to call someone. They communicate almost
exclusively by instant messaging and Facebook. (I intentionally excluded
Twitter because contrary to popular belief, young people “don’t get
Twitter.”

This explosion of text messages, tweets, and updates of non-verbal
communication is stunning.  It has many peoples’ shorts tied up in a
bunch. “How will kids today ever learn how to communicate?,” is often
the cry heard from multi-generational training audiences.  And the
spelling and grammar? “Well…it’s horrific,” parents and teachers
proclaim. But historians might see this revolution in communication as
just another lesson in history repeating itself. 

Isn’t instant messaging today just Morse Code v2.0?  What’s changed
since Morse tapped in that first message? Upon brief reflection, it
seems eerily familiar. One person taps a bunch of keys on an electronic
device which transmits a message to another party. Only this time the
code, all those texting abbreviations that drive grammar and spelling
cops crazy, is translated on the spot by the recipient. 

Ironically even Morse’s first message reverberates loudly with
today’s texting dissidents — “What hath God wrought?”  It seems that
the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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