Friday, October 12, 2012

Giving the old folks airtime

Habits of telephone use are changing, according to research carried out by the US media research organisation, Nielsen and covered in The Washington Post.

On the whole, the number of voice calls made and the length of the calls themselves, particularly among younger age groups (late teens to mid-30s...so not me any more), are falling. Meanwhile, the older generations still seem to prefer the phone to the text message, but for how long?

Language is clearly being affected in different ways by advances in technology, with many arguments raging about the effects (positive or negative) of text messaging on literacy levels, but as with so many other things, phone use is a type of technology too. Perhaps it's because it's been around for so long that we forget it too caused genuine concern about what would happen to people's relationships and even the language itself.

Of course, mobile phones have changed the way we used to talk on landlines, because a) we know who is calling us (and therefore can avoid all the old-fashioned rituals of "Hello, you are speaking to Bartholomew Smythe-Gherkin; to whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?") and b) we can talk nearly anywhere we like (apart from in Norfolk, where mobile phone use is viewed as akin to witchcraft).

But if mobile use is now changing too, what is it about voice calls (and that expression itself didn't really exist, as far as I'm aware, until video calls came along, since all calls were voice calls back then) that puts off younger people? Some talk about them as being more intrusive than a text message, others that they're less convenient. I know that I've never really liked talking on the phone, conference calls give me the shakes and I don't even want to start talking about Skype because it drives me to despair, but is this down to a lack of social skills or a justified belief that words come out better when texted on a phone? I don't know. Perhaps, in the near future, very few of us will talk at all on the phone and all communication will be via messages. Anyway, go to go now as I need to give my mum and dad their weekly call.

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