A Kenyon College administrator details the trends that are creating “therapeutic universities,” the sort of places where parents nervously helicopter about, non-parents think students are hopelessly coddled, and students hand administrators their cell phones and say, “Here, talk to my dad.” In fact, Wood describes a frequent new practice: hiring employees to deal with frequent calls from parents. Other factors in the “slouch” toward therapeutic U include consumer orientation, grade inflation and nothing less than attacks on the principles of free speech by schools; helicoptering by parents; rampant careerism, narcissism and the culture of self-esteem as enjoyed by students.
For a researcher studying Boomers and texting, there is little specific data here. But it does place texting between students and parents–one of the reasons why Boomers bother to text in the first place¬–in a larger and not very flattering context, specifically, the cell phone as the “world’s longest umbilical cord.”
This detailed look at young adults in the workplace tells us some things that are not surprising: a 21-year-old entering the workforce today exchanged a quarter of a million e-mails, texts and IMs in her life. She is also far more likely to own an IPod, created a blog, or share a mashup What they essay does do is place this in a context “sharing, staying connected, instantaneity, multi-tasking, assembling random information into patterns, and using technology in new ways.” In one anecdote, an executive interviewing a young candidate:
…She was IM'ing, had her PDA on, her cell phone, the whole thing.... I was so put off. I thought, 'She's not paying attention!' And so I asked her, 'LaShonda, what do you think will be the impact of technology on the future of work
?' She looked me in the eye and asked, 'What do you mean by technology?' I looked at all of her gadgets on the table and said, 'Like this stuff!' She said, 'This is only technology for people who weren't raised with it….For LaShonda, IM'ing and texting are like breathing. Fish don't know they're in water. LaShonda didn't consider her gadgets technology."
While this may not relate directly to Boomers and texting, it does highlight one of the generational differences that texting has helped to create and intensify. Technology-scanning on the part of young people–what the author calls “continuous partial attention”–is a source of dismay to Boomers, who often see it as less efficient and more rude.
This paper discusses the conflicts and clashing behavioral norms experienced by Digital Natives (born 1978-1994) and Boomers, especially in the workplace. Like other scholarly works, it discusses how Boomers may regard Natives’ having of texting during meetings as ineffective, rude and even unethical. Telephone interview with Boomer CIOs and CTOs repeatedly doubt the efficiency and focus of texting colleagues and those who IM in meetings. “We’re encouraging ADD” is how one executive puts it.
This is a Pew phone survey of 2015 mobile phone owners, contacted in July 2007.
Not surprisingly, the study reports that Gen Y sends the most text messages (43% text every day), but Boomers are catching up. Some 16% of younger Boomers (45-54)and 10% of older Boomers (55-64) text daily. They’re not as irresponsible about texting while driving as younger people, though. About 47% of Gen Y-ers, 42% of Gen X-ers, and only 32% of Boomers admit to texting while driving. By now, mobile ownership was spread “relatively equally across generations.” Gen Y (18-24) is highest at 85%, Gen X (25-44) at 82%, younger Baby Boomers (45-54) at 80%, and older Baby Boomers (55-64) at 79%.
This survey hints at the difference between acquisition of technology and true adoption of it. About 80% of boomers have acquired cell phone by now, but only about 12% (averaging older and younger Boomers) text daily.
In these 20 essays, scholars including James Katz and Leopoldina Fortunati examine mobile phones and cultural identities in countries including Rwanda, Australia, China, Malaysia and Singapore. As with many sources, this one focuses far more on teens and younger adults than on Boomers. One of the few references to older people and the practical difficulties of texting comes from Genevieve Bell, who notes that “many” older Chinese interviewees complained about how their reduced vision and arthritis make cell phone use, and presumably texting as well, difficult. She also reports on “speed texting” contests in Malaysia and Singapore, another youth-centered trend that might prove particularly unattractive to older cell users.
In the concluding essay by editors Glotz and Bertschi, a Delphi-method questionnaire was used to solicit and share expert opinions from more than 300 academics, media experts and researchers from several countries.
In discussing the effects of mobile phone usage on everyday life, most of the experts said that mobile phones will make families feel closer, but also provide parents the chance to do some frank surveillance over their children. Not an unusual conclusion. Author Nyiri discusses how mobile technologies like texting gives teens a dramatically different sense of time management from their parents. This is particularly relevant when seen in the larger context of cultural differences between Boomers and younger people: differences in time management, attention, focus, multitasking skills, and attitudes towards them all.
A Pew survey on text use by adults, including Boomers.
In this 2005 phone survey of about 1,500 American adult cell phone users, 27% said they had used text messaging in the last month. Not surprisingly, most texters were in the 18-27 cohort (67% of these cell owners texted) compared to 31% of cell phone owners in Generation X (ages 28-39), about 15% of cell owners among Baby Boomers (age 40-58), and only 7% of cell owners over age 60.
Of course, cell use was not as ubiquitous then as it is now; only 76% of GenXers owned cells, (described as “fully 76%”in the article; my, times have changed) and about 71% of Boomers. This article doesn't just report the numbers, though. It wraps them in the context of “new notions of what it means to be ‘present’ with someone else,” (Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project.)
Twenty-three essays by international authors, edited by the high-regarded Katz.Much scholarly writing about texting and the social context of cell phone use seems to focus on youth culture, and this book is no exception.The international authors offer theoretical perspectives, national and cross-cultural studies, essays on subcultures and fashion. When Boomer SMS use is mentioned, it’s mostly in the context of harried mothers keeping track of their children.
Johnsen’s analysis of Norwegians (teens, of course) places the text message in several interesting contexts, viewing it as a digital gift, a detextualized conversation, and a message whose content is not as important is its frequency and continuity; i.e. it doesn’t matter what you say, so much, as long as you stay in touch frequently. Johnsen then wraps the topic in the larger context of our “ideological belief in connectedness, however imperfect.”
Nineteen essays by the high-regarded Katz and his Rutgers colleague discuss national and comparative perspectives, micro-behavior, public performance and other topics, and end with their theory of Apparatgeist (loosely, the ‘spirit of the machine’, that life of its own, the symbiotic relationship between it and its owner).
Texting and baby boomers receive little attention here. But the essays are rich in the ironies that surround texting. Robbins and Turner provide a strong history of the serendipitous development of texting, reminding us that event though texting is now seen as a young people’s practice being adopted by club-footed Boomers, the early adopters of SMS were mostly middle-aged people. Texting was never meant for wide scale person-to-person communication anyway; it was originally created for stocks, sports and other one-way messaging.
Masesneimi and Rautianen discuss another irony, the fact that a text isn’t always the quick, casual, private communication that it seems to be. There may be a “culture of concealment” (Ling and Yttri, in their chapter on Norwegian teens) that makes SMS attractive to teens, but it’s often breeched for their peers, if not their parents. There’s a great deal of collective reading and composing among young texters, and the lovelorn sometimes rely on talented friends to help them craft their texts.
This encyclopedic study provides a broad, strong background for anyone studying the impact of mobile communication on any culture. Topics and chapters include our networks and our lives, the worldwide diffusion of wireless communication, differentiation of users by age, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, mobility in everyday life, the mobile youth culture, time flow and mobile networks, the language of wireless communication, social movements, political power, and communication and global development.
The authors also present a final, albeit broad, list of the impact that mobile communication on or culture, including safety and autonomy; “relentless” connectivity ;instant communities; the blurring, mixing, and recomposing of a variety of social practices in a variety of time/space contexts; users as producers of content; consumerism, fashion, instrumentality, and meaning; the transformation of language; communication autonomy, and the social problems that come with all of them.
Researchers studying generational use of cell phones would be interested in their history of texting¬a tool for young people who needed discreet, cheap communication. One of their “fundamental hypotheses” is that there is a youth culture that uses mobile communication to “express and reinforce” itself. This seems to be a direct contrast to the attitude of Boomers, who seem to use texting for mostly practical reasons–and to attempt to get a peek into their children’s culture.
This AT&T-sponsored PDF/brochure helps parents get “in the know” about texting.
The author, Dr Ruth Peters, is a clinical psychologist and frequent Redbook contributor.
The guide contains a helpful but brief guide to text language, and a cheery list of reasons why parents might wish to text their teens and tweeners. To a researcher studying intergeneration relationships, however, it is an interesting example of the near-apologetic attitude of the self-consciously uncool Boomer struggling to, quote, “look hipper.” One example:” Text messaging drops off by more than half in the “parental” age range of 30 – 49 and even more in the next age category, to which many parents belong.” Dr. Peters is afraid to say “older,” preferring the euphemism “next category.”