Call vs. text

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"Kids don't talk on the phone anymore," a friend told me this weekend. "It's all text, text, text."

She demonstrated this by rapidly pecking at her phone to imitate her teenage daughter. Her daughter, she said, equates an hour of texting to an hour of talking. I wasn't sure what to think about that. Should text messaging be considered a conversation the same way we consider actually talking a conversation?

I don't think so.

When she was young, my friend pointed out, teenagers talked on the phone and even wrote each other real letters on actual paper. I was a teenager in the late 2000s, but my experience mirrored that. I still remember getting up the guts to call my first boyfriend on his home line; cell phones were popular at the time but he did not have one.

"Hello," his grandmother answered.

"Is--is Taylor there?" I stuttered, clearly a pro at this.

She called him over and put him on the line, which should have relieved my nerves. It didn't. Having to talk to him was just as nerve-racking as having to dial his number and having to press the "call" button and having to ask his grandmother if he was available.

It was uncomfortable, but once we started talking I felt a lot better. Though we didn't last, we served a pretty important purpose for each other. We helped each other learn how to conquer the nervousness that comes with interacting with other human beings on a personal level.

When I was 16, I couldn't even order takeout without freaking out. Being forced to trudge through the process of calling someone and sustaining a conversation helped me begin to do that in other areas of my life. Today, I call people on a daily basis. It's become rote and comfortable for me. I can't say I'd feel this level of comfort if I hadn't faced up against such discomfort when I was just beginning to develop social skills.

I don't have kids and I don't really interact with teenagers much, so I can't say what effect texting has on them. Sometimes, I wonder if texting facilitates isolation. Last year, a local school administrator told me that teenagers consider it weird if someone calls them on the phone. That's normal for that age; at least, it was for me.

Unfortunately, texting is making it just as normal to avoid talking on the phone almost entirely. This bleeds into personal interactions in general and not just among teenagers. I've sat across the dinner table from my mother as she toiled away on her phone, texting someone about work or one of her friends about evening plans.

I'm not targeting my mom here; I'm guilty, too. Sometimes, I'll completely ignore one of my friends when I receive a work text I feel I should respond to immediately. Just like that, texting replaces talking on the phone and in-person.

It can isolate you from people when you're standing right in front of them. If it has that effect on adults, I can only imagine how teenagers burgeoning into adulthood suffer from it. They are trading personal interaction for a more comfortable medium, and I fear it will hurt society in the long run.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to live in that society.

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Samantha Jones is a reporter for the Carroll County News. Her email address is CCNNews@cox-internet.com.