How many times have you decided to send someone a text message because it’s quicker and easier, or because you feel nervous about talking on the phone? You aren’t the only one: Common Sense Media spoke to 1,000 children aged 13-17, and found that just over half of them would rather chat to friends by texting or social media rather than face-to-face or through a video call.
This trend of preferring to talk with our fingers isn’t new. As far back as 2012, O2 found that phone calls were only the fifth most common
thing people did with their phones, behind browsing the internet, scrolling through social media, playing games or listening to music. But by “speaking through our machines”
, as Professor Sherry Turkle from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology describes it, are children in danger of forgetting “how essential face-to-face conversation is to our relationships, our creativity, and our capacity for empathy”?
There are certainly some advantages to choosing texting over talking. In our text-heavy world a phone call can feel like an unwelcome surprise, and over half of office workers in the UK
say they feel anxious when they know they have to make a phone call. Using text messages or email makes us feel like we have more control over what we say. We can respond when we feel comfortable without being overheard by people around us, take the time to craft a message with just the right words, and keep a handy record of any information that’s been shared so that we don’t forget it.
On the other hand, there are certain things that texting simply can’t replace. It’s often said that our words only count for about 10% of what we say
. The rest is in our body language and tone of voice, and while we can use tools like emojis to give what we say more context there’s still plenty of room for ambiguity. We’ve all had moments where we’ve spent minutes agonising over a simple text message, trying to figure out its hidden meaning! We should also remember that the ability to text rather than talk depends on your access to a device and a decent internet connection; according to the ONS, around 7% of households in the UK didn’t have internet access last year.
Like everything else, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced a shift in the way we think about communicating. Since we’ve all been stuck indoors for so many months, many of us have turned to phone or web calls as a way of reaching out to loved ones. Look at Zoom
- it had 10 million users a day in December of last year, but by March that number had jumped to a whopping 200 million!
Human beings will always want a good natter every now and then. But it’s undeniable that there are plenty of good reasons that someone would choose to text rather than speak, and schools need to reflect this trend and teach the whole genre of text-based talking. If not, we risk putting children at a disadvantage when they get their own devices and start becoming savvy, safe and independent digital citizens.