Young people today have been labelled “generation mute” by some experts. Studies show that younger generations, particularly those aged between 16 and 24, prefer to text and use social media than speak in person or on the phone. Instant messaging is the number one source of communication young people, according to a 2017 Ofcom Communications and Market report.
The study also found that 49 percent of teenagers admit to texting someone while they are in the same room. Meanwhile, another survey by the App Generation found that 92 percent of teenagers don’t use their cell phones for voice calls at all. And even when this generation is speaking with someone in person, technology tends to interfere. Half of all UK Internet users say devices interrupt their face-to-face communications, according to Ofcom’s report.
This preference for text rather than talk is worrying, according to some psychologists. Without facial expressions, voice, intonation and emotion, communication is a lot more difficult, says Professor Sophie Scott, neuroscientist and speech expert. And without vocal conversation, stressful situations can be difficult to deal with.
These communication habits are already causing issues in the workplace, with employers expecting new starters to understand how to use a phone. One in three job applicants don’t have the oral and communication skills they need, according to Employer Skills Survey UK.
“I honestly can’t remember the last time I made a phone call,” says one UK teenager in an interview with the BBC in February. “I don’t think I’ve ever done that in my life.” In the video report, teenagers explain that they feel awkward and uncomfortable in a conversation that isn’t text-based.
However, some believe that young people are able to communicate via text in much more sophisticated ways than previous generations, and so they don’t need to pick up the phone. “People are marking their difference and they’re allowed to,” Professor Scott told the BBC. “Young people are allowed to say, ‘We’re just not doing it like you.’ And that’s a rolling pattern of change.”