Sunday, March 9, 2008

Text Generation Gap article

There's an article in today's New York Times called "Text Generation Gap: U R 2 Old (JK)." It's interesting and somewhat disturbing, talking about the way technology like cell phones (especially texting) has changed how children and parents communicate with each other.

This stuck out as especially disturbing:
Early on, Savannah’s parents agreed that they had to set rules. First, they banned cellphone use at the dinner table and, later, when the family watched television together, because Mr. Pence worried about the distraction. “They become unaware of your presence,” he said.
How has watching TV become family-togetherness time? Mr. Pence, if your children are watching TV and not texting, they're probably not thinking about your presence anyway. Heaven forbid that children be distracted from television with social interactions!

Pence now allows his daughter to text while they watch TV because otherwise she would just leave and text somewhere else.

This was also kind of depressing:
“Texting is in between calling and sending and e-mail,” he explained while taking a break from study hall. Now he won’t even consider writing a letter to his mother, Jan. “It’s too time consuming,” he said. “You have to go to the post office. Instead, I can sit and watch television and send a text, which is the same thing.”
I don't really care about the preservation of the written snail mail letter. They're nice, but not really important to me. My problems:
  1. A text message is not anywhere near a letter (or most emails, for that matter). It rarely consists of more than a couple sentences.
  2. Again with the television thing. "Oh no, I can't make time to communicate with my mother because I have to watch TV!"
Technology can provide great tools for communication, but we need to be careful when they start pushing people apart instead of bringing them together. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) this isn't necessarily clear or black and white. Chances are a lot of young people are building closer and closer relationships with their friends while their relationships with parents suffer. All of these issues aren't unique to technology, especially not new technologies. It's just people trying to figure out how to interact with people.


Sara said...

You said: All of these issues aren't unique to technology, especially not new technologies. It's just people trying to figure out how to interact with people.

I would argue that "new technologies" actually promote communication more than they inhibit it. Texting is obviously not the answer to all of our communication problems, but at least he is communication with his mother while watching TV rather than just watching TV.

Amber said...

I think you're right for the most part, but of course we need to be critical about the sort of communication "new technologies" promote.

Those sentences you quoted were me trying to say that this issue of communication (especially parent-child) go far beyond technology. I don't know if that was clear.

I'm glad the guy is communicating with his mom, but in my opinion it would be best if he turned off the TV and called her. My issue is more that he doesn't want to spend time communicating with her than that there is a problem/benefit with whatever technologies are involved.

danah boyd has written a much more thoughtful response to the NYT article than mine, which may be of interest.

Steven Barnett said...

I would be inclined to agree with Amber on this one. I see Sara's point and she has more support from the PEW article we read earlier in the semester on the social boosting powers of new technologies.

However, when these new technologies are over-extended past their reasonable use, it tends to result in isolation. The lower levels of communication (in this case, texting) may relay information and keep people informed, but I doubt the ability of text based communication to sustain emotional attachments necessary in most relationships.

Sara said...

I am still formulating an intelligent response for this debate. In the meantime, I leave you with this (which is really supporting the opposite of what I am trying to argue, but whatev)

Amber said...

Thanks for the lolcat. :-)

I had a further thought about TV as family-togetherness time. In my household, we often have extensive conversations about what we're watching, and I would say that can be valuable, so it really depends on the situation. Like I said (I think), it's not so much about the technology as how we use it.

Mary said...

It was funny to see your comment about "In my household..." because that's what I thought of when I read your criticism of TV-watching being considered "family time." When I watch TV with my family, I am definitely aware of their presence--at the very least I need to pay attention to them so I can make fun of them for missing all sorts of pop culture allusions (seriously, who doesn't know "Business up front, party in the back?" Come on!)

(And I know that the article was specifically about texting and its effect on parent/child relationships, but since I'm already talking about TV: Looking at it from a fandom perspective, TV-watching brings people together by creating a common interest. It does so in my family and it does so in general, with, you know, all my German/Australian/Washingtonian friends.)