You know you’re getting older when you start to get around teenagers and have to fight off visible befuddlement (also, when you use the word “befuddlement” without irony). Or better yet, when the teenagers you wind up around flat out inform you of that fun fact. Like the daughter of a friend who recently told me, “I’d ask you to come to the prom with me, Michael, but you’re old.” Full admission: I’m gay, 27, she only wanted to go with me because her boyfriend is short (I support everyone’s right to be shallow, especially my own) and I didn’t actually want to go to a high school prom. But damn, that hurt all the same.
If the prom snub wasn't reminder enough of how not-young I am, watching the young lady's obsessive cell phone behavior made me think of another teen in my life – my oldest niece – and the habit they and many other of those 1990s babies share: nonstop texting. Of the head down, eyes zoomed into the cell, they’ve entered a virtual universe all their own variety.
According to a new Pew survey, texting has become the primary mode of communication for teenagers. The volume of texting among teens has risen from 50 texts a day in 2009 to 60 texts for the median teen text user. That almost sounds like a modest average given the teens I’ve been around almost type as much on a given day as me, a working writer.
I understand that cell phones are becoming a rite of passage for kids sooner than they were for me (I got mine at 17), but I increasingly wonder whether or not that non-verbal communication surge, thanks to texting, has any consequences.
Are cell phones robbing kids of the kinds of experiences I remember having as a teenager? Antiquated practices such as talking on the phone with your friends, and in particular, people you want to be more than just a friend. I remember talking to girls in high school – one caught my eye as she parallel parked her neon green Dodge Neon – and I can’t help but think a lot of kids are going to miss out. I have great memories of sneaking on the phone and talking late into the night when I should’ve been asleep. Having laughs and opening up in ways I would later learn made me a better person. There were some other more embarrassing moments, but those, too, helped me in future relationships. Or well, mistakes, near misses, and “almost doesn’t count” moments. Same difference.
Anyhow, I get the feeling kids are going to be missing out because I already worry that people my age are already starting to. How often now do you hear someone bemoan the fact that they’re not a “phone person?” It’s one of those growing cop-outs people cite to avoid the type of communication that sparks real connections.
It worries me because I can only imagine that worsening as each generation gets more and more comfortable with cell phones and social media. There’s only so much you can get from ‘tYpiN lyk3 diz’ with a person (which should be ruled a felony, for the record). The same for an “@,” a Facebook message, or a headless shot you’ll likely later regret sending.
Or maybe I'm just old. And talkative.