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Generation 'Text': FB me

By Larry Rosen, Special to CNN
  • Larry Rosen says in third quarter of 2009, average teen had 3,146 text messages
  • There are four generations now, he says; oldest use phones, youngest anything but
  • For young people, electronic communication is not about technology, it's just life, he says
  • Rosen: Next generation is highly social, successful and plugged in. It's time to get used to it

Editor's note: Larry Rosen is a professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills. He has written four books, the latest of which, "Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn," is coming out next month. Learn more at

Solana Beach, California (CNN) -- I dont tlk on th fone. txt im fb me.

I tried to reach my teenage daughter the other day. I left a voice mail, sent an e-mail message and finally texted her and told her to check both and call me back.

Seconds later, she texted back one letter: "K." She is 19 and has been sending and receiving upwards of 3,000 texts per month. One month, she hit 7,500! She is not unusual at all.

According to Nielsen Mobile, in the first quarter of 2009, the average U.S. teen made and received an average of 191 phone calls and sent and received 2,899 text messages per month. By the third quarter, the number of texts had jumped to a whopping 3,146 messages per month, which equals more than 10 texts per every waking non-school hour. (At the beginning of 2007, those numbers were 255 phone calls and 435 text messages.) Preteens sent and received 1,146 texts per month.

My daughter doesn't answer her phone because to her, it is no longer a phone.

We are in the midst of four distinct generations of Americans: Baby Boomers (born 1946-64), Generation X (1965-79), Net Generation (1980-89) and the new iGeneration (born in the 1990s and beyond and given the "i" designation to represent media such as iPods and the Wii but also to reflect the "individualized" nature of their media).

Until recently, "communicate" meant to talk face-to-face or on the phone. But both the Net Generation and the iGeneration have turned the concept of communication upside down. The old ways are, well, old. It is now all about texting, IMing, Facebooking, Skype-ing -- pretty much anything but talking live or on the phone.

I know that this is alarming to many, but quite honestly, people must recognize that this is the way it is now and is going to be -- at least until the next new form of e-communication bursts into our world. If you have a teenager (or even a preteen), for example, you must learn how to text, or you two will never "connect." To this generation, it is all about connection, but those connections are, for the most part, electronic.

It is important to note that although experts agree about the two older generations, not everyone agrees on "defining" the last two generations. They are called Generation Y and Millennials by some and, as far as their demarcation dates, well, that is open to fierce discussion.

From my research with 3,000 Americans, the final two generations are defined not by a letter or by their birth year but by their use of technology and media, their need and ability to multitask, their rapid acceptance of anything new and their view of the meaning of technology. All of which lead to differences in personal and work values and often to disharmony in the family, school and the workplace.

Chart: Average monthly phone use
Chart: Media and multitasking

In my research, we query people about daily media activities as well as those they choose during free time. We find striking generational differences.

Older teens and Net Geners spend more than 20 hours per day using media. This is accomplished not by not sleeping but with considerable multitasking, which peaks at seven simultaneous activities for older teens.

Setting aside music (with its omnipresent ear buds), preferred media choices differ dramatically across generations: For children, it's television; for tweens, it's video games; for teens, it's texting and social networking; and for Net Geners and Gen Xers, it's being online. And for Boomers, it's, of course, back to television.

The roots of these differences lie in the origin and pace of technological change, particularly among the most recent generations. Net Geners were early adopters of the Internet, which they came to view as a valuable tool.

iGeners, however, are different. They know no other world than that of the Web, texting and social networking. They were online when they could sit up and sent an e-mail to Grandma; they made MySpace a household name by their early teens. They live in their own bedroom "TechnoCocoons," where new technologies appear and penetrate society in months rather than years.

Although the telephone took 20 years to reach 50 million users, the Web took four years, iPods three and MySpace two, and YouTube hit 50 million users in one year. The iGeneration is driving these consumer trends. Individuals in this group watch more than 100 YouTube videos a month, download apps, MySpace and Facebook (now verbs), and text the night away. They don't see technology as a tool. For them, it is just life.

These generational differences have tremendous ramifications for the family, education and the workplace. Parents are upset that their children multitask and yet are perplexed that they can balance all their technology and do well in school. Teachers struggle to reconcile their need to have students read books, do worksheets and pay attention in class (unitasking) while students want multitasking technologies.

Bosses want meetings (more unitasking), goals and progress reports, while their Gen X and Net Gen employees want to do it their way through multitasking and flex time. These differences permeate every system and cause parents, teachers and bosses to tear their hair out.

Yet those pesky multitasking kids are the smartest generation ever, with high professional aspirations. Some may call them narcissistic, but they are really a highly social generation (albeit with much of the socializing done online); they value family, revere friendship (some "virtual"), consume massive quantities of information (again, much of it online) and are the most "communicating" generation yet.

But to us "old fogies," it seems like they are just chatting aimlessly, sending brief tweets with funny acronyms that make no sense (could you decipher the text message at the beginning of this article?). They text while they walk (sometimes into trees) and keep their cell phones on vibrate while they sleep.

No one really has a choice but to accept their world and learn to adapt. The Net Geners and iGeners will soon be the country's parents, teachers, bosses and political leaders, and their techie style will become the norm. We may not like it, but we have to admit that they are happy, successful and engaged with all their media and technology.

I may have to text my daughter to get her attention, but I am also bewildered and awed by her mastery of anything new and amazed at how she can balance her media and college and maintain an A average at Yale.

It is their world. Watch out for the young ones who are already surfing the Net at 2.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Larry Rosen.