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It’s a familiar scene: parents or grandparents turning to their younger family members for help learning the latest technology or social media. (Diane’s own teenage grandson introduced her to emojis.) And teens are well-equipped for the job: Young people say they feel the pressure to be “always on” and connected more than ever. But digital communication can facilitate as well as complicate teen relationships, including those with older people. This hour, Diane talks with her grandson Benjamin and two experts about how young people use technology to communicate today and what it means for their relationships, especially with older generations.
- Deborah Tannen Professor of linguistics, Georgetown University; author of many books, including "The Argument Culture" and "You Were Always Mom's Favorite"
- Benjamin Zide High school junior in Concord Massachusetts; Diane Rehm's grandson
- Jennifer Golbeck Director of the Social Intelligence Lab and associate professor, College for Information Studies, University of Maryland; author, "Introduction to Social Media Investigation"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Teenagers today have grown up in a digitally-focused world. Eyes glued downwards to their phones. Some research shows there are actually sophisticated rules governing how young people use digital communication, but what does that lifestyle mean for their own relationships as well as their relationships with older generations?
MS. DIANE REHMHere with me to discuss this all is my 17-year-old grandson, Benjamin Zide, and fittingly he's joining us by Skype from Concord, Massachusetts. Here in the studio with me to join the discussion, Deborah Tannen of Georgetown University and Jen Golbeck of the University of Maryland. Throughout the hour, we'll be taking your calls, 800-433-8850.
MS. DIANE REHMSend your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to you all.
MS. DEBORAH TANNENGlad to be here.
MR. BENJAMIN ZIDEGood morning, Dee Dee.
MS. JENNIFER GOLBECKDelighted to be here.
REHMBen, let me, first off, start with you. What do you think our ability to communicate digitally has meant for the two of us?
ZIDEOh, for the two of us, I think I've always had you as a very technologically advanced grandmother, which is pretty cool. I remember the first time I sent you a text emoji over text message. I think it was a heart or something. And you texted back, saying, what is that? I want one of those on my phone. I also know we use Skype a lot to talk to you and being able to stay connected with you is something that, like, I treasure a lot and I think it's something that a lot of teenagers can't say they can do with their grandparents.
REHMWell, I think what you've helped me to learn is this kind of new media lingo. Now, for example, do you listen to podcasts?
ZIDEI do not listen to podcasts.
REHMYou do not.
ZIDEProbably time wise, I am more into the radio in the car. It's either like music stations or NPR occasionally, especially when you're on. But podcasts, I know, it's very -- they are probably, I would say, more popular among teenagers. I have a lot of friends that listen to them because you can just listen to them whenever you want.
REHMSure. So what are the main digital tools that you're using and your friends are using?
ZIDERanking among the top are probably Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, texting is a big one, email is also up there, probably, for school purposes more than, like, social purposes, but I think the school factor plays a large factor into other platforms we use.
REHMAll right. Now, let's turn to you, Jen Golbeck. Do you see a gap between younger people like Ben and the older generation in terms of using these various forms of digital communication?
GOLBECKSo they're has, traditionally, been this gap between young people and old people using technology, but it's getting a lot smaller.
GOLBECKYeah, I mean, grandparents are on Facebook pretty regularly at his point, they're texting. And, you know, we have to remember that as time goes on, people who are on these platforms, they got on a while ago. So my parents -- I have been instant messaging with my mom basically since I went away to school. My dad has a Facebook account. And they're grandparents. My oldest niece just went to college this year and my parents text and they do all of this stuff. They're in their 60s, right?
GOLBECKAnd so we're seeing lots and lots of people in their 60s using social media, using texting, using this technology. And so it is exactly like your grandson said, it's a way for -- intergenerationally for people to stay in contact and maintain relationships that, without this tech, would be a lot more effort to keep up, especially over long distances.
REHMAnd Deborah Tannen, if older people are using social media, are they using it somewhat differently?
TANNENYes. And I agree that there's a lot more communication and that's a great thing. When I went off to college, I talked to my parents once a week, if that. My students at Georgetown now speak to their -- especially the girls -- with their mothers several times a day. They're in constant contact.
TANNENAnd that's a great thing. But yes, there are different ways that they use it. Some almost using insignificant and some fairly significant. So, for example, what you think is rude varies. Very often a kid will have the smartphone under the table at dinner and the parents think this is terribly rude. You're here with us now. Put that thing away. But what the kids are doing is avoiding being rude to their friends because the assumption is you are going to answer quickly. It is very rude for young people -- and by the way, young people is too broad a category because even a two-year age difference will result in significant differences in how they use these media.
TANNENBut generally, the younger people must respond quickly and that is part of the positive thing that they're in constant touch with their friends. It also is a real burden on them. They really can't step away from the screen in a way that we older people feel we can.
REHMThat's very interesting. Ben, do you ever disconnect from social media?
ZIDEOnly really when I go out of service, as I like to joke, and that there is no way of staying connected. But I think, as Deborah mentioned, the fact that we always remain so connected, it is, like, anxiety producing at certain points. The fact that if I can't see my phone for a period of more than 20 minutes, you know, you're at school, email is coming through, friends texting you or you could miss out on something or you see things that you weren't a part of or, like, all -- so much can happen in such a short period of time. (unintelligible)
REHMHowever, Ben, on the other hand, does my daughter, your mother, allow you to have your phone at the dinner table?
ZIDEI am probably the biggest stickler about that, funny enough with our family. I'm always telling -- whenever -- sometimes, like, if a call from work or something comes through or somebody gets a text message and they pull it out to answer it at the dinner table, I get really upset about that more than anyone else. And that probably goes back to school because we're pretty good about being that way at school with each other at, like, the dinner table and lunch tables at school. And I kind of reflect that back at home.
REHMThat's great. So you're actually talking with your parents, your sister and you're talking with your friends in the lunchroom.
ZIDEAll of it true.
REHMThat's really -- that's good news, Deborah.
TANNENIt is. And I don't share the anxiety that I hear expressed, again, especially by older people that, oh, they have so many friends on Facebook they don't even know what a friend is anymore or they're on their phones, on the screen so much, they don't even know how to talk to each other anymore. I really don't see that. They know the difference between a Facebook friend and a close friend and they use -- often use these media for certain kinds of conversations, but they know that other kinds of conversation, something about something going on in your life, it's going to be a phone call.
TANNENBut the difference is, you don't just call people out of the blue. You text them to find out when is a convenient time to call.
TANNENBecause phone calls are experienced as intrusive. You don't know what you're going to be doing. You don't know what the other person is going to be doing when you make the call.
GOLBECKOf course, they're intrusive. I can't believe you guys are asking this question.
TANNENThis is a point of frustration that my students tell me with their parents. The parents just call at any time of day and then they leave a message which they expect you to listen to. Imagine.
ZIDEThe most upsetting thing ever.
GOLBECKLet me just chime in here. My voicemail recording in my office at the University of Maryland says don't leave me a voicemail. I’m not going to check it. Here's my email address.
GOLBECKAnd, like, I don't even know how to check my voicemail on campus.
REHMAnd that is because you consider telephone messages intrusive.
GOLBECKThey're, you know, it's just a pain. Like, I get anxious when I see a little light there that says I have a message. And I agree, like, when I get calls on campus, it almost always is somebody intruding on something else. The only people I call without texting ahead of time are my parents and my husband, because, like, we have this sort of relationship set up. But yeah, I would never just call anyone out of the blue. I'd always text.
REHMBen, is that true of you?
ZIDEDefinitely. I think texting is way more popular among younger people, especially video calling so you kind of have like both ends of spectrum where video calling existing on the other end where I would much prefer to do a video call with someone, especially if it's like a homework question or, like, something you're trying to explain that I don't want to use my thumbs to text out a long-winded reply to. But video calling is, like, something I don't think that has been brought up yet and as it -- like, an interesting dynamic.
ZIDEAnd that’s even more on, that you have to exist in front of a camera for someone, rather than just over a screen (unintelligible) words.
TANNENAgain, what fascinates me is different ideas about what's rude and this always comes up with cultural differences and this is a cultural difference. So parents think it's terribly rude, first of all, not to pick up the phone and then secondly not to listen to the voicemail. Whereas, for kids, it's so rude to just call as if you had nothing in the world to do but answer the phone call. So texting to figure out a time to call is the solution.
REHMDeborah Tannen is professor of linguistics at Georgetown University. She's the author of many, many books, including "The Argument Culture" and "You Were Always Mom's Favorite." We'll take a short break here. Calls when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about technology among the young, the technology gap that seems to be growing smaller and smaller between the young and the older, and how people use technology. Jennifer Golbeck is here with me. She's director of the Social Intelligence Lab and associate professor at the College for Information Studies at the University of Maryland. She's written "Introduction to Social Media Investigation." Deborah Tannen is professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, and on the line with us by Skype and phone is my own grandson, Benjamin Zide. He's 17 years old and he is always online.
REHMDeborah Tannen, talk a little about punctuation and how it's used in these technological communications.
TANNENA source of miscommunication and confusion between older people and younger, and often parents and kids, is punctuation. For example, if you end your sentence with a period, many older people, that's just normal. Kids will hear that as you're angry at them.
REHMA simple period?
TANNENBecause normally, you don't. And this is how meaning always comes across in language. What's standard, what you expect normally, has no particular meaning, if you add something that you don't expect, it carries extra meaning. Since they don't tend to use punctuation, using it, putting the period in, sounds angry. And my students have so many examples where their mother says, call me, period. That means she's angry. What did I do wrong? And she calls and, what, no, no, I just wanted to talk to you.
TANNENAnother one is three dots. So...
REHMI use three dots all the time.
TANNENThree dots to us means, and on and on, more and more.
TANNENTo kids, it means I'm undercutting what I said before. So parent asks, say they're texting, how was your evening last night? Great, we went to Paparazzi restaurant. Wow, dot, dot, dot. That means, couldn't you do better than that?
REHMBen, tell me...
ZIDEThere's so much more, there is so much more reading between the lines that I think happens with us. The period, I completely agree with that. It's an emphasis, the same with taking the notion of, like, capital letters, or if you capitalize a word, it's like somebody screaming at you, and you're angry, and maybe they just mistakenly capitalized something, or, I mean, I think even using capital letters are sometimes -- like the whole notion of like all proper grammar kind of goes haywire over text messaging.
ZIDEAnd it's kind of an interesting spiel, looking at it, like, email wise, too, 'cause then you kind of come into this strange -- it's like the next step of text messaging, because you have to be formal to some point, especially with teachers and friends, but then how formal do you still need to be with friends who you talk with this completely other, different platform over text messaging. And the switching between all these worlds and the switching between all the different platforms gets really complicated.
REHMYou want to comment, Jen?
GOLBECKYeah, just to add into what Deborah was saying, you know, I think part of this is the -- it's based in the miscommunication that we've been having really since everybody starting emailing, right? So we still run into this. I send you an email, and it's very hard to tell the tone of it. You can't tell if I'm upset or if I'm joking, and that's why, you know, we put in the smiley faces and the emojis, 'cause it adds something that we would have in an interpersonal communication.
GOLBECKBut yeah, I don't use this punctuation in my texts. Like, if my husband's like, could you, you know, stop at the store and pick up milk? If I write, fine, with no period, that's a lot different than fine, which would have the period.
REHMWith the period. Oh, for Heaven's sake. And Ben, do you text to your mother a great deal?
ZIDEI do, certainly like during the school day and stuff, it's much easier, going back to our other conversation about phone calls. I can't speak on the phone during the day, but texting is fine between classes and during it.
REHMAnd here's an email from Chad in Elkhart, Indiana. "When was the last time your grandson wrote a letter by hand, and what are your thoughts on handwritten letters?"
ZIDESo I actually prefer handwritten letters much more for thank you notes and appreciation. I think having -- that's probably more personal, that's something I enjoy seeing, like if I've done something for somebody, I like having like a tangible, like, memory of the experience. I was just in Washington with Dr. Tannen, who's on the show, and she had -- I spent the day with her, so I wrote her a thank you note. So that was less than a week ago, so I guess that was the most recent handwriting. But I think it's something that is still valued a lot among teens, like birthday cards are still a big thing that kids make and show support for one another, so, they still exist. I don't think the idea of a card has been completely dismantled.
REHMNow, did you grow up writing thank you notes?
ZIDEEvery -- all Christmases and birthdays, my mother's always been, you sit down afterwards, and that probably comes from you.
ZIDE(unintelligible) down along the family, but yeah.
TANNENI want to say how much I appreciated that thank you note, handwritten. Thank you again. I actually dashed off an email thanking you for the thank you note, because it isn't usual.
TANNENIt isn't usual.
REHMI guess people have stopped...
TANNENIt's very appreciated.
REHM...doing that, for the most part, Jen,
GOLBECKYeah, I was gonna say, we were talking about this before. I write all my thank you notes by hand, and I was thinking, as Ben was talking, the last one that I wrote was yesterday. It was my wedding party anniversary, so we eloped, just the two of us, but we had a big party, so it was our two year wedding party anniversary and I hand wrote my husband a card for that, so.
REHMOh, that's lovely.
GOLBECKI think Ben and I are in the same boat on pretty much everything we're talking about.
REHMOkay, I'm going to take a call here from Jordan in New Milford, Connecticut. Hi there, you're on the air.
JORDANHello, Diane, thank you very much for having me on.
JORDANMy name's Jordan, as you mentioned. I'm 22 and I grew up with technology. And something that I just wanted to mention, is that, I mean, always -- old people are coming to me for help, and you know, I'm more than happy to help, but something I feel deserves a mention is that I don't really feel like this has significantly impacted my relationship with a lot of people. Like, in my family, for instance, like while I'm more than happy to help with technology, they see me as an expert -- there. Everywhere else I'm still, you know, the son, the grandson, and I'm pretty okay with that, you know. Just something I wanted to mention. Like, it hasn't had a massive impact on how we view each other, it's just been another way for us to communicate.
REHMDo you agree, Deborah?
TANNENI do think that, yeah, sure, there's a lot of truth to that. but I do think for many young people, they do have more communication with their parents than earlier generations did. And maybe the caller doesn't really have that to compare to. But there are gender differences that are worth commenting on. It's the young women and the women that tend to use the repetition of the exclamation points and the emojis more than the young men do. And they are the ones who are using these as a way to have conversations about their everyday lives, where the young men are more communicating, well, they send jokes, which is reminding each other they're there and they care about each other. And making plans.
TANNENSo there are those differences. And a young man in my class wrote a little paper comparing text message he had gotten from his mother and his father and there was an interesting difference right off the bat because he wanted to compare 20 messages from each. He had to go back a month to get 20 messages from his mother, and he had to go back a year to get 20 messages from his father. And then when he compared the actual messages, the father's were more about business. I notice in your bank account, there was a certain amount of money missing, and he says, yeah, that was for my study abroad. It's accurate. But with the mother, it was, how was your trip with so and so? And how's your roommate doing? And...
REHMBut isn't that the way? Isn't that reflective of the way...
REHM...women carry on and carry a conversation, and the way men do.
TANNENAbsolutely. And I've been teaching at Georgetown nearly 40 years now, so before the days of these kind of media, I saw the same pattern, but it was phone calls. When they called home, they talked to their mothers, their father just got on the phone if there was a question about the bank account...
REHMTo say hi.
GOLBECKAnd this is something that we see as a traditional role for women, what they call kin keeping, right? The women in the household generally take on this role of remembering when people's birthdays and anniversaries are, and to send the cards. And so it just is something that I think women grow up doing, and see their mothers doing, and they sort of take it on as it's a responsibility for me in the family to keep those relationships alive.
REHMBen, do you communicate by text as much with your dad as you do with your mother? Does he communicate with you as much?
ZIDEI would probably say my mom makes -- does it more. I find that, I think that's always just been the way it has been, and it's not that it's like, who's checking in on me more or like asking how my day's going, or who's caring more. It just goes down to like, who has more free time, in a way, I guess. And who's like, who's trying to ask, like, the little questions. And it's like sometimes I find them, sometimes I also know that, like, like the phone call, it can be hard, 'cause (unintelligible)...
REHMOkay. Let's go to Kevin in Cincinnati, Ohio. You're on the air.
KEVINHey, first off, I want to wish everybody a, the best of Thanksgivings this year.
KEVINWe still have a lot to be thankful for in our country. But I work on a fairly large Midwestern college campus, and I work in public safety, and what's interesting is, with this hyper connectivity that we have, we frequently get calls from parents because they haven't heard from little Johnny or little Susie in like five or six hours, and frequently we have to dispatch an officer or security officer to try to see if they're in their rooms, or try to find them.
TANNENYeah, that is...
KEVINAnd we find out that their phone has just died, or, you know, they're studying for exams or something like that. It's kind of ridiculous.
REHMJen, have you run into that?
GOLBECKOh, I have not, and I'm so glad. That sounds terrible. But this is interesting, because Deborah was talking before about -- and lots of people raised this, how kids have to constantly be in touch with their friends, and it's so rude not to talk. But this is not the kids, right? This is the parents constantly needing that reassurance. So see, we can't blame it all on the young ones who want to be in touch.
ZIDEWell, you may be able to, though, 'cause you show the reflection. I think it's us reflecting on the parents. I think it sparked among us initially, and then we're reflecting that among the parents, and I think now we've created, like, a monster.
ZIDEAnd now the parents always breathing down our backs, so.
TANNENYeah, I think it's, again, it's you compare something happening to what you expect. So they expect to hear from the kids every couple of hours, and suddenly five hours seems like a huge amount of time, and you can't think of any other explanation other than a terrible thing has happened.
REHMAll right, to Mike in St. Louis, Missouri. You're on the air.
MIKEYou are the hippest radio show host ever. You, I called you in 1999, when you had Ray Kurzweil on.
MIKEAnd I was probably the last caller, and I got to tell my story about this future that I had believed in, and here was a guy who was actually, had the technical skills to define what he was talking about.
MIKEBut on a pay phone I called. Today, now I'm talking with an iPhone, and I talk text everywhere, but what really amazes me is I'm 70, and yet, people my age are often more rude than kids when -- in a conversation, they'll answer their cell phone without even, you know, skipping a beat, and just continuing the conversation you're having. And I thought this was only kids that did this, but it's really a problem that we have with this technology is managing the information and to really comprehending all that's coming at us, 24/7 now.
MIKEAnd as just a side, I thought with these helicopter parents, that guy from Cincinnati was talking about, imagine they're getting drones now, to follow the kids around.
TANNENYeah, I think that's a really good point. I know Sherry Turkle, who you've had on the show, talks a lot more about the parents being on their devices all the time, and in her view, neglecting their kids, because of it. So, yeah, it's definitely both generations. But I always want to get back to the idea about what's rude, which we feel is self-evident, varies very much, and it varies by individuals, by age, by region, all these influences. So in some environments, for some people, we all know we have phones. And the phone rings, sure, your phone rings, pick it up. I, mine rings, I pick it up. It would only be rude if I stayed on the phone for 20 minutes. But if I take a quick call, not rude. So I think we need to realize that that can vary.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
REHMAnd a tweet from Brandon, he says, "as a 31 year old millennial, it's been tough bridging the divide of decorum between older and younger generations." He says he's still learning new apps and techniques. Is that true for you, Ben? Are you constantly sort of rethinking, relearning how and what to do?
ZIDEI think the general skills that kind of encompass a lot of the apps, staying connected, light, understanding to like interpret the events and photos and a lot of the time, it is photos, with all, across all of the platforms. I think the underlying foundations to them are all the same, and then once you have the little intricate details about each of the platforms, once you understand those -- I'm trying to speak, like, really broadly here, to like encompass all of them. But once you understand them, you can, like, apply those same skill sets to learning new ones.
ZIDELike over the years, Snapchat has become incredibly popular, so that took the notion of pictures that you can post and send to people, and now they're only existing for like eight seconds or a maximum of ten seconds, I think. And that's something that I think a lot of kids have adjusted to, and I think that's one of the newer ones over the years.
REHMWhat do you think, Jen?
GOLBECKI think that's right, and this gets back to a point that Mike raised, that older people sometimes use this technology in a way that can be really offensive and disruptive too. And you know, we see a lot of criticism leveled at younger people, but the fact is that because they have grown up with this technology, they've also grown up with a lot of sophistication about how to use it and where it's appropriate, where people who didn't get this technology until, say, they were in their 50s, have to suddenly learn how this omnipresent way of communication is gonna impact and change their life, because it's completely different than the way they've been communicating before.
GOLBECKAnd I think we just don't give younger people enough credit about how much sophistication they have with the tech.
TANNENI also want to mention, I agree with that, differences in how we use different platforms that can create confusion. Email, to older people, tends to be an informal medium. Young people consider email formal. And just the other day, a student in my class was complaining. Her mother who always sends her an email, and actually tries to have a conversation over email, and she's, that's not for email, that's for texting.
REHMOh, for Heaven's sake. I have to learn more, Ben, that's all there is to it. Short break here, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Here's a tweet from Brandon, who says, "I'm interested in how youth view privacy and intimacy through virtual life now and how that might develop?" Ben?
ZIDEIt was -- that's actually interesting. I was talking about privacy the other day with someone. And I guess there's been studies showing that people are always complaining about privacy or the lack of privacy. And then these studies are showing that we're actually a lot more private than we think online. And I think that's going back to -- it's been already mentioned that teenagers are pretty smart and savvy with the way they're using technology.
ZIDESure things are posted online that shouldn't be posted, and things do come out and we're always taught through school and through communities and everything that anything we do online is there to exist forever. And I think that education has played a huge role in us being more or just understanding how to use technology appropriately. And I think that without that education there would be a lot more out there. But since we do have it, we're -- you don't see stuff that you shouldn't, as much as you -- you wouldn't see stuff as much as it does come out.
GOLBECKYes. I think this is such an important question. And the first important step is to separate out what's a thing that young people have always done and what's a thing that the tech is responsible for. So, you know, when I started talking about Facebook 10 years ago, people go, oh, my God, kids these days, Facebook. And I'm like if Facebook were around in the '60s, the hippies would have loved Facebook. Right? The Vietnam protests would have been all over Facebook.
GOLBECKYoung people tend to do stuff online that makes older people uncomfortable because young people, as a rule, don't understand all the bad things that can happen to them and make decisions that sometimes make older people uncomfortable. And that doesn't have anything to do technology. Like, that's just a young person/older person question.
GOLBECKBut Ben is exactly right. So the statistics that he's thinking about come from Pew. They have "Internet in American Life Study." And they've looked at how people of different age groups use privacy settings and make decisions about privacy online. And young people use privacy settings much more than older people do. They're much more sophisticated about what they share and who is able to see it.
GOLBECKThey use alternate platforms like Snapchat, and Ben can speak to this. You use Snapchat for different kinds of things then you would use Instagram for, which is different than text, which is different than email. They're much more sophisticated about it. So it's not that, oh, they don't understand privacy or intimacy. They understand it really well. They might make some decisions that you go, like, that's a really bad decision, but that's just a youth issue. It's not a tech issue.
TANNENI think it's important to think about ways that these media are transforming and even breaking down distinctions between public and private that we took for granted in the past. And for one thing, the fact that something from the outside comes into your life, in your face throughout the day, that's a kind of break down between public and private. And the fact that people can get more easily into a private conversation, I mean, how can we talk about email without thinking about this most recent election.
TANNENWhy was the hacking of private emails somehow accepted as -- for public discourse? I mean, why wasn't it shunned as stolen property when that was what a president was impeached for, for trying to break into the opposing party's private communication? And now suddenly it's all simply accepted because it was on email. So is email private or is it public? It's private, but in some ways people assume and treat it as if it were public.
TANNENSo I think this is something that we're all contending with and it's in everybody's daily lives and certainly in young people's daily lives. Once you've got Facebook and you're breaking up with a boyfriend, it's not just between you and the boyfriend. Are you gonna change your Facebook status? Are you gonna announce to the world, no longer in a relationship, now single? And you have to deal with the public without having made a choice to do that.
REHMOne thing I'd like to ask because it has been certainly in the news of late, and that's bullying. Ben, have you or your friends seen examples of that or even experienced that online?
ZIDEI have never experienced personally. I have seen it happen before. And I guess it comes back to that idea of what you put out there is always gonna remain out there. And luckily, people usually say it in the moment, you know, anger's like a short-lived -- it comes out really quickly and then they'll take it down later. So screenshots, taking a picture of the screen usually happens. And things are reported quickly. I'm lucky to say that my school is really good and kids are usually really understanding online.
ZIDEAnd that kind of -- our school culture kind of continues into our social media culture as well, which is -- I appreciate. But I don't know if that's something I can attest for all schools, like us. So…
REHMAnd a question from Barbara in Chicago, "What are the rules for using phones and other devices at school, during tests for example?"
ZIDESo my school is really built around, like, an idea of common trust. Teachers trust that if we are answering -- there's no rule about, like, having to put our phone in our backpack, come in class. Some teachers are more lenient with others about if we're using it during class. But usually they have the notion that if it's during class time, like your attentions devoted to them and their attention's devoted to you. And technology becomes an interruption between that space.
ZIDEBut, you know, that said, I do carry my laptop and my phone and my iPad with me at all classes. And they're always sitting on my desk no matter where I am. And emails do come through in class and I do check it. So it does happen.
TANNENI don't allow laptops in class and that's the reason. I started this policy a long time ago and I understand more professors are adopting this policy. And the students appreciate it, 'cause it's all about distraction. The one year I allowed laptops in class and then at the end I always ask -- have a questionnaire, what were you doing with them. And they said I was shopping, I was checking Facebook, I was checking my email.
TANNENAnd one student once brought in an example where she and another student in class were making fun of the teacher on their -- in their texting exchange. But students appreciate it because it's distracting to them. And they actually are more comfortable if you take an hour away from them and just say you've got to be in class when you're in class.
REHMYou know, I have to mention this. I was talking to a group of about 150 students the other day. I won't mention where. But a young man sitting in about the second or third row gave me a huge yawn. And I called him out on it. And I said, you know what? I recognize you may be sleepy, but I'd appreciate you covering your mouth when you yawn. He didn't do it again. And his teachers said to me, I thank you for doing that. I'll bet that young man won't do it again. Ben, are you guilty of yawning in your teacher's face?
ZIDEI try to cover my mouth if it's gonna happen. But I think, like, something like that and you're sitting in like a huge auditorium, especially if you're in the front row, like, that shouldn't be happening.
REHMYeah, exactly. And we were talking earlier about ambiguous punctuation. Here's an email from James, who said, "When a friend is texting me she mostly does not use periods and it leaves room for ambiguous interpretation. It drives me batty," says James. "I'm 58, she's 34, and I still think it's laziness."
TANNENOh, laziness. I always get back to these evaluations that we make based on how people use either language in speaking or in media. And that's because we don't understand the different rules that they're following. So if the young people writing to her use punctuation she would love it, but all their other friends would think they're adding meaning that they don't mean to add.
REHMInteresting. And here's to Alice in Washington, D.C., you're on the air.
ALICEThank you. I love the composition of this panel. I have a question directed primarily to Ben. I'm a tail end baby boomer. My millennial niece is very casual about her use of devices with her family. In fact, you know, there's times when she doesn't respond and times when she doesn't call back. Even my mother, who's 89, uses text. So it's not as if we're not, you know, making the effort to meet her on the texting level.
ALICEBut my question really is, what about accommodating older forms of communication. If somebody calls you, I would call them back, rather than text them back. But I'm curious what you think about that with respect to your elders and how you think that younger people should accommodate older people as well as older people, of course, trying to get into the swing of texting. Thank you.
ZIDEYeah, so I think it -- that's a really interesting question. And the fact that it posed kind of the differences that have arisen between generations. And I think that goes back to technology having advanced so quickly. I mean from 10-year spectrums, even to 5-year spectrums, you have these huge gaps of technology and huge advancements, usually for the better. And I think the one way adults to kids need to -- adults need to understand that we're so much more connected than we've ever been before.
ZIDEPart of that is cultural life of it, a huge part of it is school life as well. And that if we're taking the time to answer something, it's usually in respect to something that's pressing to the moment. But I think kind of on that end of the spectrum, going from kids to adults now, that there are still social situations where it's just not appropriate to use it.
ZIDEBig family dinners and stuff like I was talking about earlier, I get upset, and I don't think that should happen. Some -- I know I am guilty of this, if it does come up like an email or something that I have to answer in the moment, I try to do as quickly as possible or I step away. And I think also embracing the -- you were talking about having a call or something from an older generation, where you have to embrace different forms of technology for different generations. It's not just -- there's not one universal notion that's, like, accepted across -- being accepted of all of those.
TANNENYeah, yeah, the assumption -- it's so easy. Why don't you just return the phone call? That's self-evident to us because we're so used to incorporating that into our lives, but for young people who almost never make phone calls, that would be a big deal. So you have to kind of get into the other framework to realize why it seems you're asking something very out of the ordinary, not something every day.
REHMBut you know, I'm pleased to say that my grandson calls me just about every week. And we talk on the phone. So it's terrific, in addition to the texting. All right. Let's go to John, in Florence, Ky. You're on the air.
JOHNGood morning, Ms. Rehm and all. I have two teenagers and like I guess a lot of teenagers and everybody, they're -- they get really annoyed when I call them on the phone when I feel like I need to call them. And they complain and I just simply remind them that, at this point in time, I'm the one paying for the phone.
TANNENDo you try texting ahead to arrange a time to call?
JOHNI -- if I call them I need to call them. That's the way I look at it.
TANNENWell, if you could text…
JOHNAnd that's why they have the phone, is so that I can get a hold of them.
GOLBECKSo, John, if I can ask, what's a kind of thing you feel like you have to call about?
JOHNWell, like I have one daughter who is involved in a lot of after-school activities and sports. Sometimes they run long. Sometimes I don't remember when they're supposed to get out. I don't want to leave her sitting at school for a half hour or 45 minutes alone. So I'll call her, hey, when do you get out, you know. Sometimes I will text her, you know, 'cause I know she wants sometimes, but, you know, I try not to like -- realize when they're in school or, you know, when my older daughter's at a job or something, I don't call them then, you know.
TANNENI would just suggest try texting and saying I'd really like to talk to you. When's a good time?
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." It's really interesting this feeling of, well, you know, I'm paying the bills. I get to call you. But that's not how it's viewed by the younger generation. Ben, how often do you pick up or use your phone to call your friends? Or is it mostly texting?
ZIDECalling is such like a once in a blue moon rarity.
ZIDEIt's much more -- if -- usually questions, like homework questions or larger questions that I don't want to spend the time and the energy typing out long-winded and I think there's a potential for a long conversation it will be a video call. And I think that's like a much more personal way and usually easier way than -- some would argue it's more difficult 'cause then you're also on in a video persona, instead of just a voice persona.
GOLBECKIf I can just chime in on the reason behind this, because we seem to be getting the like, oh, no, like we totally don't call. Oh, but I want to call and talk to you. Like, the reason for this, the reason -- and I'm gonna group myself with Ben, though obviously I'm older than him, I use the tech the way that he does. A phone call interrupts whatever the person is doing, that you're calling. Right? You're saying, stop whatever you doing, stop whoever you're talking to and you're gonna talk to me right now.
GOLBECKAnd text is not intrusive in that way. I can carry on a conversation, I can say, oh, you know what, my dad just texted me. Give me one second. Send him a quick reply, and it doesn't stop everything that I'm doing. And so there really is a good reason that a lot of younger people prefer text over a phone call. It is very demanding to say stop what you're doing and talk to me right now because I don't want to type four words.
REHMNow, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Lots of people sitting around tables. Is there a rule in place that the iPhone or whatever should not be on the table?
GOLBECKShould not be on the table, absolutely.
REHMDo you agree with that?
ZIDEI totally agree, absolutely agree.
TANNENI would say each family should come to some agreement at the beginning about what their rules are gonna be because I can imagine there might be kids who say, I've got to answer my friend, but I promise it won't be longer than a minute.
REHMBut you think it's okay to have that cellphone?
TANNENIf it were me I would try to get everybody's agreement not to do it, but I would like every individual family to agree on what they're comfortable with.
REHMGo ahead, Ben.
ZIDEThere are great opportunities, though, I'm like kind of -- I know I'm kind of taking my word back now, but like photos are a huge thing that we -- a lot of our use are -- we use our phones for, and, like, the ability to show what's happened with family over a period of time. So I guess I don't want to say -- I don't want to just say no phones at all. I think technology, but limited technology to a point.
REHMSo send me some photographs from tomorrow, Ben.
REHMI love you so much. Thank…
ZIDEI love you, too.
REHMThanks for being on. Benjamin Zide, he's a 17-year-old junior. Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University. Jennifer Golbeck, she is at the University of Maryland. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. And enjoy your meal without the phone at the table.
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