If the telephone were to die, Marlene Caroselli would wear a red dress and do a jig at the funeral.
"At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I hate talking on the phone," says Caroselli, 68, of Rochester, N.Y. "It is usually a complete waste of time, and, nearing my septuagenarian decade, I don't have much time to waste."
She doesn't mind talking when it's something substantive: shouldering a friend through a hard time or conducting business related to her job as an author and corporate trainer. "But when it's prattling I feel trapped," says Caroselli. Setting up a lunch date often digresses into "topics like new linoleum or the pain and heartache of psoriasis." She has no patience for it.
Caroselli is far from alone in her assessment of the telephone as an imperfect form of communication. In fact, one in four Americans has abandoned the landline telephone, the one that you have to plug into a wall and can't clip to your waistband. Younger adults make up the majority of mobile-phone-only communicators, but older adults are following the trend. From 2007 to 2010, the number of people ages 45 to 64 who gave up their landlines increased by 143 percent, from 7 percent to nearly 17 percent of older adults in that category. Among people over age 65, the numbers increased 170 percent, from 2 percent of the population to 5.4, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At the same time that people are abandoning voice-only landline communication, they are warming to its successor: the text message. Armed with a mobile phone with a standard keypad that spells QWERTY across the upper left row, you can send brief messages that arrive instantaneously on the recipient's phone. From 2009 to 2010, text-message usage increased 46 percent in the 45-to-54 age range, 54 percent in those 55 to 64, and 3 percent in those over 65, according to the Nielsen Company. Its polls show that the average 60-year-old sends 129 text messages per month — an average of four per day.
Text-happy in America
Why has text messaging become so dominant so fast? Three reasons, says Naomi Baron, professor of linguistics at American University and author of Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World. Privacy, control and expediency.
"Texting lets you decide when you are going to send a message, when you're going to view a message and when you're going to respond to it," says Baron. "If I'm on the telephone with you, I don't have those options."
And on the phone, we have to engage in Caroselli's scorned chit-chat. Texting cuts to the chase, asking a straightforward question in anticipation of a succinct response.
"If I text you, I don't have to go through the niceties of warming up the conversation, having a pleasant good-bye and then maybe, if I'm so foolish as to say "How are you?" and you say something other than "fine," I have to listen to you," says Baron. "We do not wish to do this anymore. That is exceedingly clear, particularly in the United States. Talking takes too long."
"We may say we don't have the time, but what we lack is the patience to give somebody a hearing," says Baron.