CHICAGO — Anna Schiferl hadn’t even rolled out of bed when she reached for her cellphone and typed a text to her mom one recent Saturday. Mom was right downstairs in the kitchen. The text? Anna wanted cinnamon rolls for breakfast.
Soon after, the 13-year-old could hear Mom’s voice echoing through the house.
“Anna,” Joanna Schiferl called, “if you want to talk to me, you come downstairs and see me!”
Anna laughs about it now. “I was kind of being lazy,” the teen from suburban Chicago concedes. “I know that sounds horrible.”
Well, maybe not horrible, but certainly increasingly typical.
Statistics from the Pew Internet & American Life Project show that, these days, many people with cellphones prefer texting over a phone call. It’s not always young people, though the data indicate that the younger people are, the more likely they 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,” said 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 such as “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.
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