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Talk or Text

Older people like phone calls and younger people don’t. In general. Maybe the line is around 40 give or take a few years.

It’s well documented that millennials (age 25–40 or so) think phone calls are inefficient. The younger you are, the more you think phone calls are dumb. If you have a question for someone you bang out a text message – sent – done. Probably the answer comes back in seconds. How easy was that? Phone calls are so tedious and a waste of time.

“And if you want to talk on the phone with me,” the under-40 is thinking, “schedule it. Calling someone without warning is so rude.” The idea is that a text or email allows the recipient to respond at their convenience. A phone call is an instant demand for attention.

A phone call is an instant show of respect, thinks the over-40. I want to focus exclusively on you. And if I miss you I will leave a message and you will call me back; another show of respect. Without even talking yet, we are building a trust relationship! And when we do talk I will get my questions answered, get more questions answered instantly, and clarify anything I’m unsure of. Doing business in real time is so efficient.

Here’s the problem: when one generation puts expectations on another that they didn’t volunteer for or consent to. What seems respectful and efficient to one person is not the same for all people. And different communication styles are more pronounced now than ever before in human history. This is because some of us grew up with texting and some of us didn’t.

It’s like some of us grew up in a foreign country and some of us didn’t. Over-40’s are the immigrants. We grew up in a different world of communications technology; with a different native language and a different culture than the world we are in today.

If you are a text native (under-40, grew up with texting), take pity on the immigrant and help them adapt and thrive in the new world. Don’t take it as “disrespect” when you get approached in weird ways or talked to in broken English.

If you are a text immigrant (over 40) try your best to adapt to ways of the new world. If you are in a boss/parent role you get to prescribe if/when/how people call or text you. But if you need to get along with natives you don’t supervise, best to conform to their customs as best as you can even if clumsy.

As a text-world immigrant, it’s hard to let go of my old world cultural norms. I want to insist on phone calls and returned calls. Yet new world inhabitants never agreed to take phone calls or return my phone calls. And it’s not fair for me to expect them too.

Some practical tips? (1) If in a work relationship, establish norms for when you will talk and when you will text. (2) In any kind of intergenerational relationship, mention that you grew up with different ways. Just naming the differences is a huge start to bridging the differences. (3) Don’t judge that your way is best or that you know what’s best for someone else. (4) Get a mentor. Or a translator. Or at least ask people different from you how best to say things or send things. Ask, “If I were to launch this, how might it land?”

As a practical matter, if I want something from someone it’s best to approach them however works best for them. And it never works well to project my expectations on others without their consent. Yup, it looks like I’m being asked to be open-minded and considerate of others, again!

3 thoughts on “Talk or Text

  1. Thanks for this Craig. Interesting lens. I’m 78 and manage to live in both worlds pretty happily, but find there are many more misunderstandings in text communications due to the absence of voice tone, I believe. So what’s gained in efficiency is often lost in taking the extra time for clarification (and sometimes assuaging hurt feelings).

  2. This is great! Sunrise Senior College is a group of those 50 and older and our members are just that usually older. We are starting a telephone calling campaign to contact our members especially those who have just joined or those who were previously members. Yes, our generation does appreciate telephone calls especially when we need to explain a policy, welcome a new comer or ask for a volunteer. Thanks for this article. I will pass it on to the Board of SSC.

  3. Thank you for this firm explanation.
    I am 80 and resentful of the new technology that is being forced on me, ever accelerating, digging in ny heels insisting on Depression style, Luddite living, very aware that many of us (of all ages, especially artists/ creatives (and probably lots of people in jail), have poor sequential memories, “learning disabilities”, struggle with the constant change. The younger of us get furious and worse, some become back of the classroom bullies, resentful of the techy class.
    Your age class explanation of the new manners is excellent, i do try to keep it in mind, but sadly and happily retreat to my age group. But I am enormously grateful that we can still speak to each other with our voices, see each other with our eyes, walk to visit (some of us, granted), all gifts we are born to enjoy

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