NPR's WBUR recently aired a fantastic interview with the Wall Street Journal‘s Katherine Rosman, Naomi Baron, author of Always On, and Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project. The topic? The changing nature of our communication.
The way we communicate with each other today has dramatically changed. Based on Katherine's recent findings as reported in the Wall Street Journal, 13-17 years old send an average of 3339 text messages a month. Even in the 45-54 year old demographic, texting is up 75% (to an average of 300 per month).
At the outset of the interview, Katherine rightly points to the reasons behind people's unwillingness to actually talk on the phone:
"People don't want to be on the phone when, heaven forbid, they might actually get stuck in a conversation that goes beyond what they originally intended. They don't want small talk. They just want to get and receive the data they need and go about their multitasking, distracted days."
Wow. And so true.
For anyone who's been face to face with a text-messaging pal, it can feel pretty isolating.
Naomi Baron, whom I interviewed a while ago on my wordpress Power of Slow blog, addressed the loss of people's attention today. Calling in from Copenhagen, she stated:
"We no longer notice that we're not as engaged as we could be if we were just listening to the other person. Voice-to-voice on the phone. Voice-to-voice, face-to-face."
Are we losing our ability to actually interact with other people on a personal level? I'm wondering if we are.
Lee Rainie summarized the conversation beautifully when he suggested how "we are rearranging the landscape of communication...we are reallocating our communications patterns."
In response to a private conversation my PR colleagues and I were having about this topic (yes, via email!) , Herdon, VA-based PR professional Diane Johnson said, "We're cultivating a culture of mushroom people who want to sit in front of their computer or on their PDAs and believe using their fingers (while keeping them off each other) counts as human interaction."
As parents, we must teach our children etiquette and Net'iquette so our ability to communicate not just words, but their meaning, too, is not lost in our collective digital distraction.