Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Text Messaging and Being An Old Fogey

I remember clearly the first time I realised that I was definitively a generation older than the current crop of teenagers. It was when I read this:
"The average teenager sends 3339 text messages per month".
The average. Lord knows what the sample maximum was. For teenage girls the average was 4050.

And it instantly made me feel like a cranky parent in 1950 railing about Elvis wiggling his hips. Not in the sense that I was scandalised or offended - frankly, the stupidity of teenagers knows no bounds, and the other things they would have been doing are inevitably just as vapid. No, more just in the sense of not really understanding what's going on. Holy Lord in Heaven, why would you want to spend that much time typing to someone on a tiny keyboard? If each text message takes you 10 seconds to type, that's 9 and a half hours of typing on a keyboard the size of your palm. If each message receives a reply that takes you 5 seconds to read, that's another 5 hours. It's an average of 6 texts per waking hour.

The New York Times ran a piece recently talking about how lots of people are giving up the phone call. (I don't link to the New York Times, for reasons I'll explain some other time). And while I'm in agreement on the general undesirability of phone calls with random people, I find myself preferring the phone for organizing things with people you know reasonably well. The bandwidth of the phone is just so much larger - you can talk way faster than you can type, and exchange information much faster (particularly information requiring several iterations of response and adjustment) . Sorting out a place to meet takes about 30 seconds on a phone, or 10 minutes of back and forth on text messages. I just don't understand why more people don't want to get the boring organization conversation over faster, and get on with their lives. There's also no substitute for when you want to find out if someone is available right now. If they don't answer the phone, they're not free. Hyperbolic discounters like myself don't want to wait 5 minutes to find this out.

The bigger point, though, is that text messagers are forever tied to their phone. 6 messages an hour is about right, because you don't just send 500 messages in two hours then stop, you do it continuously over the day. They're never fully paying attention to whatever task, conversation or event is at hand, because they always interrupting to continue their stop-motion conversation with someone else somewhere else. I dislike phone calls as much as the next man, but I resent even more being tied to my phone for that long at a stretch.

And you kids don't know what real music is anyway. Back in my day, we had to walk 10km to school, uphill in both directions. And back in my day, that skirt you're wearing would have been called a belt.

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