Given all the fun in Florida politics over the last month, I've been a little remiss on commenting on a recent survey about teenagers and how they communicate that came from the Pew Trusts.
Several have already written about the findings. For example, the survey found that the average teen texts about 100 times a day (wonder how that compares to the average legislator), and that some 34% of teenage drivers admit to texting while driving. Given the research on self-disclosure of bad personal behavior, and our collective experience, we all know the last figure to be significantly higher.
However, one piece has been underreported, at least in my opinion. In this survey, only 34% of 17 year olds and 33% of all teens say they talk to their friends face to face on a given day, compared to 54% of all teens (and 77% of 17 year olds) who say they text with their friends every day. Certainly anyone who has teenagers or who interacts with them frequently (I am the proud uncle of several) will attest to the accuracy of this.
So what does this mean in the realm of politics? More than you can imagine.
Here is some more background.
A couple years back, when I was plodding through grad school at FSU (on the working student five year plan!), I worked on a paper with a few classmates where we attempted to measure whether you could predict someone's likelihood to become active civically based largely on the number of friends they had on Facebook. Knowing that traditionally, the width and influence of one's network of friends (loosely known as social capital) can of whether someone would vote or even run for office themselves, we wanted to see if the same could be a predictor using social networking. The answer we found: maybe. That's a whole other blog post.
But in that research, we also discovered a fascinating paper written in 2007 by an Ohio State professor who wanted to find out among college students if face to face debate was better than virtual (online debate). The results, at least to me, were stunning, that yes, among this universe of voters, the online debate was just as valuable and that the students were "more candid (used) more direct opinions and engaged in more heated debates," than those who did the same thing around the table. Another study found that "the ease of electronic communication may be making teens less interested in face-to-face communication with their friends" (Subrahmanyam and Greenfield, 2008).
So to sum this up, teenagers and college students not only utilize electronic communication more than face to face communication, they value it just as much. And that changes everything.
Sure, as these kids grow up, they will begin to meld into society, but we are largely products of what we learn as youngsters, meaning that there is no reason to think that even as 30 and 40 year olds, the subjects in this study won't continue to value electronic communication as much as face to face.
Take all these findings and it is fair to assume that as today's generation grows into tomorrows, we will be looking at a society that debates less at the water color and more on self-selected facebook groups, and one where fewer people lobby their neighbors by banging on doors and more lobby their friends on twitter or over text message. And it won't just impact politicians, this new era will impact all of the ways that we communicate with each other as we move into a world where we are all connected all the time.
So next time you see a kid sitting at the dinner table at Applebees texting during dinner, just wait, one day that young person might be your co-worker debating you on the merits of a company policy over gchat, facebook, or that same cell phone.