Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Are you reading this on your phone?

It's a New Year!It's a new year. It's time to reconsider and rethink everything. As a friend, I'm doing this in your own best interest. Believe me.


Here's a gentle test to get your self-examination started. You know you're an old fogey if:

  • You use your cell phone simply as a phone.
  • You watch movies on a VCR.
  • You listen to your tunes on a turn table.
  • You use your oven more than your microwave.
  • You think GPS may mean something. You just can't remember what.
  • You like email.

Email? I can hear you gasping in disbelief. Email — the communication mainstay coursing through corporate and personal discourse — that email? The very email I'm reading? Passe?

Yes, dear friend, the new generation (your kids, no doubt) think email is so last year.

The Young People — the folks who communicate with emoticons, speak in mysterious alphabetic cryptographics known only to the initiated, and text addictively with peers — these YPs think email is laborious.

OK. They may have a point. Email has a "courtesy" protocol. You have to type in a subject line, type in a message, close properly with your electronic signature, and then wait for it to be received and responded to. Email allows clarity and thoughtfulness.

But texting is a greyhound. It's built for speed, if not for absolute clarity of message. Reflecting the immediacy of conversation, texting has the same flow as a casual comment. And, unfortunately, the same ephemeral thought. I mean, how much deep thought can go into WTF?

Reality CheckReality check, folks. These YP are making changes that we old codgers will have to adapt to. Or die. Or maybe find ourselves in communications limbo with younger family members and co-workers.

Statistics bear out the communications sea change. Yahoo and Hotmail email volume peaked in November 2009 and have slid 6% since; in the 12- to 17-year old cohort the decline is a much more precipitous 18%.

Even Facebook is getting hipper. After realizing that most subject lines are left blank or at best have "Yo" or "Hi," Facebook is axing the obviously underutilized line. It's also cancelling the "cc" and "bcc" options, thus loping off the email look and mimicking text formats. With one final bow to the YP need-for-speed, hitting the Enter key now launches the message with the alacrity of texting.

Today, the old fogeys — parents, teachers and bosses — are driving the demand for email. These martinets demand precision of thought and well-honed arguments in email form. Go figure. They run the banks, the schools and the corporations of the world.

But that intense communication style may not always be with us. In the not-so-distant future when the YPs become the parents, teachers and bosses, then texting may become de rigueur. Then speed rather than absolute message accuracy may become the preference.

The 20-somethings are caught in the middle. And they are feeling it.

The New York Times recently interviewed 23-year old Adam Horowitz who works as a technology consultant, where he uses email all day. But after work he communicates with friends almost entirely via texting. When he texts his younger brothers, 12 and 19, he notices that they send messages even shorter, faster than his.

Texting and Broken English"When they text me" he says, "it comes across in broken English. I have no idea what they're saying. I may not text in full sentences, but at least there's punctuation to get my point across. I guess I'm old school."

How about that, Dear Friend? He's an old fogey and he's only 23!

There's hope for us really old fogeys.

Me? I'm still figuring out the whole texting thing. After all, I hope to have Grandkids one day.

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