Is Texting the Death of Small Talk?

The Scream prefers texting to talking

Woman texts her husband on a cold winter’s morning:
“Windows frozen.”

Husband texts her back:
“Pour some lukewarm water over it.”

Woman texts back:
“Computer completely dead now.”

Maybe you haven’t ever misconstrued a text (or “miscontexted”) that badly, but the above joke highlights one of the challenges of texting:   a greater likelihood of misinterpretation.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love texting!  Texting is great for short, informational messages. Plus, you don’t have to worry as much about interrupting people (although people will often interrupt themselves to look at a text).  And, I prefer receiving a text to receiving voice mail (does anybody really like voicemail?).

My biggest concern with texting is for teens and young adults, who may be losing the ability to make conversation and small talk, which is still a vital skill in the workplace (and in personal life).

According to a study published last year by the Pew Research Center, “Young adults are the most avid texters by a wide margin. Cell owners between the ages of 18 and 24 exchange an average of 109.5 messages on a normal day—that works out to more than 3,200 texts per month—and the typical or median cell owner in this age group sends or receives 50 messages per day (or 1500 messages per month). Cell owners between the ages of 18 and 24 exchange an average of 109.5 messages on a normal day—that works out to more than 3,200 texts per month—and the typical or median cell owner in this age group sends or receives 50 messages per day (or 1500 messages per month).”  Pew’s more recent research shows that the  number of texts for median teen texter (ages 12-17)  has risen to 60 text per day from 50 texts per day in 2009.

That’s a lot of texting.  That’s a lot of time not talking.  “Heavy text users are much more likely to prefer texting to talking. Some 55% of those who exchange more than 50 messages a day say they would rather get a text than a voice call.”

The preference for texting over talking has, anectodally, resulted in decreased interpersonal communication skills, on the phone and face-to-face. Are we losing the art of small talk?

 “It is an art that’s becoming as valuable as good writing,” says Janet Sternberg, a professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University in New York who is also a linguist.

In the most extreme cases, she’s noticed that more students don’t look her in the eye and have trouble with the basics of direct conversation – habits that, she says, will not serve them well as they enter a world where many of their elders still expect an in-person conversation, or at the very least a phone call.

On today’s college campuses, the dynamic is often different. Forget about things like “office hours,” for instance. Many professors say they rarely see students outside of class.

“I sit in my office hours lonely now because if students have a question, they email, often late at night,” says Renee Houston, an associate professor of communication studies at the University of Puget Sound in Washington state.

“And they never call, ever.”

She recalls overhearing students chuckling about the way people older than them communicate.

“My parents left me a VOICEMAIL. Can you believe it?” one said, as if voicemail had gone the way of the dinosaurs.

–From Text Messaging: Is Texting Ruining the Art of Conversation?

Here’s a table of some of the talking vs. texting issues that I see:

Texting is a valuable mode of communication, but it can’t completely replace voice or face-to-face conversations (which include online face-to-face technologies such as Skype).

What can we do to ensure that texting isn’t the death of small talk?  A few ideas:

  • No-texting zones/rules (for example, no texting family members in the same house)
  • Eat dinner with your family and don’t allow texting at dinner.  Talk.
  • Encourage video/Skype/Facetime conversations with people at a distance
  • High School and College Classes on interpersonal communication
  • Use of  the Toastmasters International’s Interpersonal Communication Program for Youth
  • Encourage young adults (well, anyone over 18) to visit a Toastmasters club, to see how they might benefit from the communication and leadership skills
  • Speech classes that include a component of impromptu speaking (which is something I include in my youth classes as detailed in Speech Class for Teens)
  • Give the young adults  in your life a copy of Small Talk Big Results: Chit Chat Your Way to Success!  It’s a quick read on the basics of small talk and networking (and yes, I wrote it!)

Do you have some ideas?

opening joke source


About Diane Windingland
I speak for organizations that want their people to have better, more profitable conversations.

3 Responses to Is Texting the Death of Small Talk?

  1. Pingback: Is Texting the Death of Small Talk? « Rubber Tyres –> Smooth Rides

  2. Pingback: Text-based Digital Communication instead of Face-to-Face Communication? « polly2848th

  3. Pingback: What Ever Happened to Face-to-Face Conversation? « Small Talk, Big Results

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