The generation gap is back in a big way, according to Sunday’s Washington Post, which alerts us to the startling trend of kids not talking. It’s not a form of peaceful protest, it’s just that they’re too busy texting and emailing to bother using their mouths. Have you been to the mall lately? Eerily quiet. But if you’d think grumpy adults would like the silence, you’d be wrong. According to the newspaper, the “serious decline” of “telephone conversation” is “creating new tensions between baby boomers and millennials — those in their teens, 20s and early 30s.” Tell us about these new tensions!
First, the cold, hard facts:
Nearly all age groups are spending less time talking on the phone; boomers in their mid-50s and early 60s are the only ones still yakking as they did when Ma Bell was America’s communications queen. But the fall of the call is driven by 18- to 34-year-olds, whose average monthly voice minutes have plunged from about 1,200 to 900 in the past two years, according to research by Nielsen. Texting among 18- to 24-year-olds has more than doubled in the same period, from an average of 600 messages a month two years ago to more than 1,400 texts a month, according to Nielsen.
And parents just don’t understand that it’s about convenience:
“One student told me that it takes her days to call her parents back and the parents thought she was intentionally putting them off,” she said. “But the parents didn’t get it. It’s the medium. With e-mails, you’re at the computer, writing a paper. With phone calls, it’s a dedicated block of time.”
Sounds like tension, all right. But if this all sounds trivial it’s because it is. And if this all sounds like it’s based on a shaky premise, it’s that, too. Think about it: if this is based on cell phone minutes and texting, the pool of data must be quite small, as neither have been around very long in the scheme of telephonic communication. So what are we learning — that people are talking on the phone less than they were when cell phone conversation was at its peak? Two years ago? How can that shift be truly defined as generational?
In actuality, it’s another in an endless line of conceptually tenuous newspaper articles meant to highlight the way Baby Boomers (the paper’s prime demo, because they’re stuck in a rut) see, and shake their fingers at, young people. The problem isn’t necessarily the lack of data, but ascribing a general value judgment, the too simple “Kids Today!”
And for balance, we get pointless objections from young people to the way old people act, as well. “My parents call and leave voice mails. They do that a lot,” says one 26-year-old. Well, then!
From there, it’s calls getting shorter, landlines disappearing, and the psychological implications of it all. If you’d like to hang up and try again…
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 8, 2010