Roger Cohen, The Quest to Belong
Next year’s Thanksgiving grace.
Turns out that today’s teenagers are more interested in being connected than tooling around in the most iconic US symbol of individuality: the automobile.
Nick Bilton via NY Times
In a survey to be published later this year, Gartner found that 46 percent of people 18 to 24 would choose access to the Internet over access to their own car. Only 15 percent of the baby boom generation would say that, the survey found. “The iPhone is the Ford Mustang of today,” Mr. Koslowski said.
The teenager’s waning enthusiasm for driving predates smartphones. Statistics released by the Transportation Department note that in 1978, 50 percent of 16-year-olds in the United States obtained their first driver’s license. In 2008, only 30 percent did.
Those who get a license now drive less, too. The Transportation Department says 21-to-30-year-olds now drive 8 percent fewer miles than they did in 1995.
Ms. Connelly of Ford has an interesting explanation for the behavioral shift. Driving a car limits the valuable time teenagers could use to text-message with their friends or update their social networks, she said. Although public transportation or waiting for a ride from the parents is slower, it gives a teenager more time to engage with friends on a mobile phone.
There are a number of other trends involved here that Gartner might not track, since they obsess over information technology and gadgets, and less looking at the big picture:
It would be interesting to see the demographics of these numbers, but I can predict with high confidence that the more urban a kid is the less likely they are to get a drivers license at 16.
The Pew Internet folks show that talking on the phone is still preferred to texting, except for the young and restless:
Aaron Smith, Americans and Text Messaging
Some 83% of American adults own cell phones and three-quarters of them (73%) send and receive text messages. The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project asked those texters in a survey how they prefer to be contacted on their cell phone and 31% said they preferred texts to talking on the phone, while 53% said they preferred a voice call to a text message. Another 14% said the contact method they prefer depends on the situation.
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.
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).
Overall, the survey found that both text messaging and phone calling on cell phones have leveled off for the adult population as a whole. Text messaging users send or receive an average of 41.5 messages on a typical day, with the median user sending or receiving 10 texts daily – both figures are largely unchanged from what we reported in 2010. Similarly, cell owners make or receive an average of 12 calls on their cells per day, which is unchanged from 2010.
A majority of cell owners prefer a voice call when they want to be reached, although the most active texters tend to prefer a text message
Methodologically, I can’t understand why Pew used different age groups when looking at texting versus calls. Makes it difficult to analyze.
Young people (18-29) text way more than others, but only have slightly more calls per day than the other groups. So the ratio is very interesting: they have less than 10 calls and over 100 messages per day, while the older people have (it seems) less that 50 texts and 15 or less calls. Despite the messy numbers, it’s obvious that younger folks make or receive proportionally much less calls.
I hazard that — once again — what the youngest users are doing is the best indicator of the future patterns of use for all. So, texting will continue to displace voice, and for a simple reason: texting is non-rivalrous. It is possible to text while doing other things, such as talking with friends or while watching a movie. And media tend to move from rivalrous to non-rivalrous over time as users become habituated to the new medium.
The story behind Friedhelm Hillebrand’s 160-character form factor for texting.
Modern, beyond-smart phones — like Android and iPhones — based on 3rd party apps and web-based OSs, are leading users away from SMS texting, and fast. The handwriting is on the wall: texting is slowing and will soon go bye-bye. And the carriers don’t like this, as it simply makes them dumb pipes, ephemeralized by liquid media:
While U.S. cellphone users sent and received more than 1 trillion texts in the second half of 2010, according to CTIA, a wireless industry trade group, that was just an 8.7% increase from the prior six months. It was the slimmest gain since texting exploded last decade.
Text traffic will come under more pressure in the months ahead. This week, Apple Inc. showed off an application that will allow iPhone and iPad owners to bypass carriers and send text messages over the Internet to other people with Apple devices.
Google Inc., whose Android software is the most popular operating system on smartphones, has also recently worked on a messaging application, a person familiar with the matter said.
The new messaging tools—answers to Research In Motion Ltd.’s popular BlackBerry Messenger—are a growing threat to a texting business that generated $25 billion in revenue in the U.S. and Canada last year.
Carriers, such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless, charge fees ranging from 20 cents per text to $20 a month for unlimited texting. The texting business has low costs and high margins. A dollar of texting revenue produces at least 80 cents of profit compared with about 35 cents of profit from $1 in wireless data or voice services, according to analysts at UBS.
The challenges posed by alternatives to text messaging reflect the broader changes roiling the wireless industry as carriers scramble to adjust to devices like the iPhone and Android handsets, which give cellphone users more flexibility in how they communicate.
So, what recourse do the carriers have? They can try to charge more fees, punitively.
Google is certainly in a position to launch a carrier network. In fact, I could actually ask why haven’t they done so already?
Apple seems happy to make deals and pass along costs to users, so I wouldn’t expect them to do much.
But in the final analysis, the carriers are doomed to be relegated to a role like the electric company. Once they lost control of the handset, and their services are reduced to providing a dial tone and an internet connection, their margins are going to rapidly slip to next to nothing. And someday soon, we won’t even need the dial tone, once we talk via social network connections instead of phone numbers, which will give a whole new meaning to ‘social call’.
A serious demographic break between the under 25s and the overs. Although I can’t understand the issue with texting while eating, aside from the question of eating with others.
I wonder what people text while having sex? Is it about the sex or some random other stuff?
I am not advocating texting while driving, which has reportedly led to 307,369 crashes so far this year, according to estimates from the National Safety Council. But I do feel its a good policy to keep to scientific facts about attention, even when announcing beneficial policies:
At the news briefing, Dr. Andrew Pollak, president of the trauma association, said: “It isn’t just cellphones. It’s anything that takes our attention from the task of driving.”
David L. Strickland, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, added: “No one does multitasking well.”
It turns out that in fact there are some people who do multitasking well. These are known as ‘supertaskers’ by the researchers that discovered their paradoxical existence, Jason Watson and David Strayer at the University of Utah (Supertaskers: Profiles In Extraordinary Multitasking Ability).
As I reported last year,
Watson and Strayer tested 200 subjects in a controlled fashion, and determined that 2.5% of the group could in fact drive in a difficult car simulation while conversing on the phone without significant loss of ability of the individual tasks. The ‘conversing on the phone’ wasn’t just talking about TV: it was a complex set of behaviors called OSPAN tasks, like remembered lists of items while performing mathematical calculations.
The authors state, unequivocally:Supertaskers are not a statistical fluke. The single-task performance of supertaskers was in the top quartile, so the superior performance in dual-task conditions cannot be attributed to regression to the mean. However, it is important to note that being a supertasker is more than just being good at the individual tasks. While supertaskers performed well in single-task conditions, they excelled at multi-tasking.
This means that there are some of us who can drive and talk on the phone safely. And it seems like their superpower is multitasking itself, not just the ability to do these two specific things together.
So, I will make the conjecture that multitasking is a cognitive skill which — like mathematical reasoning and musical ability — occurs in a bell curve distribution across the population. Watson and Strayer discovered some folks that are three standard deviations above the norm, who had functionally zero decrease in their performance in the individual tasks when asked to do more than one at a time. But all of us fall somewhere on that curve. And as with most cognitive skills, we can improve.
Note that it takes a great long time, on the order of 10,000 hours, to gain mastery of complex skills like piano playing and kung fu. It may take that long to become great at multitasking, for the average among us.
So it is categorically false to say that no one is good at multitasking.
And like you, I hope that wannabe multitaskers should practice somewhere other than the drivers seat of a moving automobile, at least until they have attained their multitasking black belt, anyway.
Clive Thompson, Clive Thompson on the Death of the Phone Call
According to Nielsen, the average number of mobile phone calls we make is dropping every year, after hitting a peak in 2007. And our calls are getting shorter: In 2005 they averaged three minutes in length; now they’re almost half that.
We’re moving, in other words, toward a fascinating cultural transition: the death of the telephone call. This shift is particularly stark among the young. Some college students I know go days without talking into their smartphones at all. I was recently hanging out with a twentysomething entrepreneur who fumbled around for 30 seconds trying to find the option that actually let him dial someone.
This generation doesn’t make phone calls, because everyone is in constant, lightweight contact in so many other ways: texting, chatting, and social-network messaging. And we don’t just have more options than we used to. We have better ones: These new forms of communication have exposed the fact that the voice call is badly designed. It deserves to die.
I honestly dislike ‘phone calls’ — random, out of the blue interruptions by someone who has my phone number. On the other hand, I have many long phone conversations every week, which are increasingly on Skype or soon, I bet, on my iPhone (or iPad, once it is rigged with cameras), involving video communication. These are situations where I will put aside other work, and solely focus on the topic of the call. Note however that these sessions often involve multiple people, and generally include real-time chat among the parties. These are more like online meetings.
But yes, I find that I use other communication preferentially, like texting and Twitter — where I don’t have to dedicate my foreground attention. I have set up my voice mail to redirect to Google Voice, so I can get a transcript of the voice mail, after which I treat it like a text message.
And I find it odd when I realize that someone I am working with is a ‘phone person’ — someone whose primary mode of interaction is via phone calls. It seems old-fashioned, like smoking a pipe, or wearing a cravat.
Thompson suggests that adding presence to handsets would help, since this would mean that we’d know if someone was available for a call. I think that doesn’t work, really. It just creates another layer of etiquette, where people would want to indicate they are around for emergencies, but not for casual chat, and they would have to update their presence everytime they were on a call or went to a meeting. Better to text and ask if someone if free to take a call, I think, if only because it can be ignored or deferred until an appropriate moment.
Bob Herbert, one of my favorite NY Times columnists, slips on his Cosby sweater and wags his finger at the 21st century; specifically, being connected through high tech devices and flow media:
Bob Herbert, Tweet Less, Kiss More
We’ve got cellphones and BlackBerrys and Kindles and iPads, and we’re e-mailing and text-messaging and chatting and tweeting — I used to call it Twittering until I was corrected by high school kids who patiently explained to me, as if I were the village idiot, that the correct term is tweeting. Twittering, tweeting — whatever it is, it sounds like a nervous disorder.
This is all part of what I think is one of the weirder aspects of our culture: a heightened freneticism that seems to demand that we be doing, at a minimum, two or three things every single moment of every hour that we’re awake. Why is multitasking considered an admirable talent? We could just as easily think of it as a neurotic inability to concentrate for more than three seconds.
Why do we have to check our e-mail so many times a day, or keep our ears constantly attached, as if with Krazy Glue, to our cellphones? When you watch the news on cable television, there are often additional stories being scrolled across the bottom of the screen, stock market results blinking on the right of the screen, and promos for upcoming features on the left. These extras often block significant parts of the main item we’re supposed to be watching.
A friend of mine told me about an engagement party that she had attended. She said it was lovely: a delicious lunch and plenty of Champagne toasts. But all the guests had their cellphones on the luncheon tables and had text-messaged their way through the entire event.
Enough already with this hyperactive behavior, this techno-tyranny and nonstop freneticism. We need to slow down and take a deep breath.
I’m not opposed to the remarkable technological advances of the past several years. I don’t want to go back to typewriters and carbon paper and yellowing clips from the newspaper morgue. I just think that we should treat technology like any other tool. We should control it, bending it to our human purposes.
Let’s put down at least some of these gadgets and spend a little time just being ourselves. One of the essential problems of our society is that we have a tendency, amid all the craziness that surrounds us, to lose sight of what is truly human in ourselves, and that includes our own individual needs — those very special, mostly nonmaterial things that would fulfill us, give meaning to our lives, enlarge us, and enable us to more easily embrace those around us.
Oh, great. Let’s go back to watching televison, Bob, right? That’s what people were doing before the web came along. Have you read Putnum’s Bowling Alone? Where he characterizes pre-Internet America as a culture — in the 80’s and 90’s — headed toward zero social capital?
It might push you out of your comfort zone, Bob, to see people texting at a wedding, telling the folks back home how big the cake is, or whether Joey smooshed Maria with cake before he kissed her, but that’s people valuing being connected, and we now have the tools that make it functionally zero cost to do so.
And the friends we make on Facebook or Twitter aren’t ‘virtual’: they are real people, just people not in the room at the present moment. Don’t equate this with tamagotchi virtual pets, or playing soduko online. This is — at its core — human interaction. And there is never enough connectedness in the world, really.
You say you’d like people to listen to each other, but Twitter and Facebook are for listening too, not just shouting.
And the world hasn’t sped up. It’s still spinning around its axis once per day. Older people seem threatened by an increased frequency of interactions. There is a subtle suggestion that social interaction is cheapened — made ‘common’ — by increased duration or frequency. That that is a cultural bias, though, not some invariant of the universe.
I am sorry to see Herbert, who has such a sure touch when it comes to recounting the injustice of the world, and the ways in which society can run over the average citizen, turn his talents to Sunday supplement preaching on the evils of the sped-up web, texting, and those dag-nabbed mobile phones.
He should see past the superficial, past the activities that seem foreign and threatening to him, to the results: a more connected world, with people more involved and more caring. A deeper world in which human relationships are valued more highly than in the 20th century, and where social media — dominated by social networks — have thankfully displaced soulless mass media like TV, newspapers, and the radio in Herbert’s car.
I have been writing a long time about the war on flow: How the media and other members of the commentariat will denigrate the sociality that we are investing ourselves into at the edge, and the forms that it takes through streaming media, social networks, and mobile devices.
[…] the inherent conservatism of the mass media and other mass organizations (those that are based on one:many modes of communication, like government, religions, business, and so on) will lead them to say that this new sort of thinking is illegitimate: they war against it, saying that our new ways of talking and thinking and the social structures that they engender are bad, inferior, immoral, and stupid; and that those in favor of this web revolution are dumb, misguided, or evil fringe lunatics.
Expect more of this. As we move to the edge, those in the center are threatened by the changing of everything, and they will do almost anything to stop it, or at least slow it down as much as possible. It’s a social revolution, and those who are losing control will go a long way to stop it, if they think they can.
The newest front of this ‘war on flow’ is The Concerned Psychologists and Childhood Experts looking at the new ways that kids are bonding. As has been detailed in many places over the past few years, we have taken away what was formerly ‘normal’ childhood — where kids scuffled around in parks and street corners with their pals after school and weekends — and divorced kids from that sort of unmonitored and unstructured play time (see The End Of Childhood).
And now, kids are filling the void by connecting via text, web, and social networks. And the yowling of the So-So-Concerned picks up:
Hilary Stout, Antisocial Networking?
To date, much of the concern over all this use of technology has been focused on the implications for kids’ intellectual development. Worry about the social repercussions has centered on the darker side of online interactions, like cyber-bullying or texting sexually explicit messages. But psychologists and other experts are starting to take a look at a less-sensational but potentially more profound phenomenon: whether technology may be changing the very nature of kids’ friendships.
“In general, the worries over cyber-bullying and sexting have overshadowed a look into the really nuanced things about the way technology is affecting the closeness properties of friendship,” said Jeffrey G. Parker, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Alabama, who has been studying children’s friendships since the 1980s. “We’re only beginning to look at those subtle changes.”
The question on researchers’ minds is whether all that texting, instant messaging and online social networking allows children to become more connected and supportive of their friends — or whether the quality of their interactions is being diminished without the intimacy and emotional give and take of regular, extended face-to-face time.
It is far too soon to know the answer. Writing in The Future of Children, a journal produced through a collaboration between the Brookings Institution and the Woodrow Wilson Center at Princeton University, Kaveri Subrahmanyam and Patricia M. Greenfield, psychologists at California State University, Los Angeles, and U.C.L.A. respectively, noted: “Initial qualitative evidence is that the ease of electronic communication may be making teens less interested in face-to-face communication with their friends. More research is needed to see how widespread this phenomenon is and what it does to the emotional quality of a relationship.”
But the question is important, people who study relationships believe, because close childhood friendships help kids build trust in people outside their families and consequently help lay the groundwork for healthy adult relationships. “These good, close relationships — we can’t allow them to wilt away. They are essential to allowing kids to develop poise and allowing kids to play with their emotions, express emotions, all the functions of support that go with adult relationships,” Professor Parker said.
It’s totally strange how these academics rediscover — over and over again — that social tools shape culture, in both nuanced and blunt ways. ‘Damn! We put these communications devices in kids hands that allow them to create and maintain many conversations at once, and they do! And it changes the way kids interact! And the ways that they affiliate and create self identity! Yikes! How did this happen! Where are the glory days of my youth! I don’t understand these kids!’
But once again, expect even more jabs and jibes, like the heavy-handed ‘Antisocial Networking?’ title for the piece. They will continue to maintain that the new ways of connecting are inferior, that our relationships through the web are ersatz, and we are up to no good: destroying the fragile fabric of social interaction.
I am personally more interested in how brains grow when people actively involve themselves in a broad spectrum of close relationships, engaged conversations or the like, which were formerly impossible, even in a face-to-face setting. How will these children manage work, teach each other, and shape their own children?
William Saletan, The Body Electric
Two years ago, in his book “Rocketeers,” Michael Belfiore celebrated the pioneers of the budding private space industry. Now he has returned to explore a frontier closer to home. The heroes of his new book, “The Department of Mad Scientists,” work for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as Darpa, a secretive arm of the United States government. And the revolution they’re leading is a merger of humans with machines.
The revolution is happening before our eyes, but we don’t recognize it, because it’s incremental. It starts with driving. Cruise control transfers regulation of your car’s speed to a computer. In some models, you can upgrade to adaptive cruise control, which monitors the surrounding traffic by radar and adjusts your speed accordingly. If you drift out of your lane, an option called lane keeping assistance gently steers you back. For extra safety, you can get extended brake assistance, which monitors traffic ahead of you, alerts you to collision threats and applies as much braking pressure as necessary.
With each delegation of power, we become more comfortable with computers driving our cars. Soon we’ll want more. An insurance analyst tells Belfiore that aging baby boomers will lead the way, enlisting robotic drivers to help them get around. For younger drivers, the problem is multitasking. Why put down your cellphone when you can let go of the wheel instead? Reading, texting, talking and eating in the car aren’t distractions. Driving is the distraction. Let the car do it.
This is a great example of the figure/ground shift of meaning when you adopt a completely different perspective about some social issue, in this case texting while driving.
The typical response to these shifts casts the new practice, in this case texting, as a negative impact on the more established practice, in this case driving. This is followed by calls for new laws and new penalties for those attempting to mix the two.
Don’t get me wrong: I agree that texting while driving is dangerous. But other practices that have long been tolerated, like changing radio stations or eating while driving, are dangerous too. However, these are grandfathered because they are as long-established as cars are. No one freaks out because someone has an accident while eating a danish: it’s just accepted as part of the baseline hazards of driving, like fender benders in parking lots.
The revolution in perception is to consider driving the car the distraction that takes your attention away from texting. Then the push is on to invent new technologies to change the basis of driving, instead of regulating texting.
In the social business context, this is similar to the acceptance of the personal element of social networking online, the acceptance that human life is lived in specific connections with other specific people, not in some generalized business context where workers are interchangeable parts.
Management often responds to the adoption of social tools the way that public policy has responded to texting while driving: they make it illegal to be social while working.
The far-sighted response will be to make it easier to gain the benefits of social business, and to rethink the organization and management of work around human nature instead to persisting in trying to ‘rise above’ what makes us people in the first place.