Mobile Reveries: Digital Natives and Text Messaging

This past weekend, my parents came to town. So did everyone else’s, to be fair; Harvard’s campus was teeming with bright-eyed parental figures, ducking in for a brief glimpse of their children’s lives during Junior Parents’ Weekend. It was wonderful to walk through the streets of Cambridge with my parents, showing them all of the exciting things I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by.

That is, when I managed to look up from my texting on my cellphone for long enough to point them out.

It really took having my parents here for me to realize the extent to which I depend on text messaging. I certainly wasn’t trying to be rude, and I doubt that my parents took offense when I pulled out my family-plan RAZR to respond to its digital chimes. I couldn’t help noticing, though, that this happened not once, not twice, but probably at least 5 times a day. And I think I’m on the low end. I tend to dash off long text messages with mostly-correct punctuation, so each text takes about two minutes to write; as my parents and I ran around Cambridge, I would sink into these mobile reveries where I was completely consumed by thumbing notes, making arrangements, and trading hellos.

A few days ago the New York Times ran a fascinating article about the “Text Generation Gap,” addressing the gulf between the ways that teens and their parents use SMS technology—often, in trying to communicate with one another. My parents are no strangers to technology, but they actually don’t text at all. This is not because they lack the ability or know-how; nope, it’s mainly just because they’d already shelled out for unlimited text messaging for me and my college-aged brother, and didn’t see the point in getting it for themselves. Every text message for them, then, costs money; mostly, in their efforts to keep a 5-cellphone bill down, they simply abstain. Thus, text messages—like Facebook messages—are simply not a mode of communication open to me for interacting with my parents.

And if text messaging were an available avenue for parental interactions? It’s hard to even imagine, but I know it’s a reality for tons of families today. I know that for me, text messaging always feels a little like passing a note in middle school: slightly deviant, consistently effective. And definitely, definitely something that happens within my peer group, and not outside of it. I’m curious to know: why do you text? Who do you text? Who don’t you?