Is Texting Wrong Here?

If you have relatives who don’t say much, is texting the wrong thing to do?

This image shows an imaginary text box with platitudes like "love you" "feel better"
Is Texting the Way to Reach Family?

Dear Ms. Smartphone: It is a holiday, Yom Kippur, and I find that some of my relatives are not involved with our family’s cherished routines. These relatives, who have moved away, seem totally disconnected from the family except for texts they send plus birthday cards. Usually I have to text them first. Should I text my disapproval? Marcela, Swampscott

Dear Marcela: You ask a contemporary question! As technology changes so do our interpersonal relationships. Based on what you wrote, your lament is not a one-off. The texts you exchange are fragile, both in number and in content.

No doubt, it is hard to pick up the phone and dial these relatives, but that would be my advice. If you continue to rely on text it will magnify your differences. When you send a text, you don’t know how it is received (is the person alone or in a group, focused, reading carefully etc.) nor where (e.g. in the bathroom, in the car, etc). That could account for some of the misinterpretation, but not all.

If you converse on the phone (presuming they answer your call), you can speak your mind, and convey more emotions and explanation. Importantly, you can listen to their viewpoint and gain some clarity. This is a very good article describing all the things that are lost by texting and gained by using a phone call instead.

If you have not seen these relatives in awhile, you could propose a Skype chat, but if you do so, be prepared to have a subliminal moment processing how they look, their surroundings, and whether they are reacting to your call as an intrusion or as a nurturing intervention. I would be concerned that the additional visual cues could hamper your reconnection. Good luck!

Older Phones Work

This is a picture off older flipphones, blackbery phones, and early smartphones. The image is from 2017 and was taken by Chris Jackson, a photographer.
“Not dead yet.” photographer: Chris Jackson. Getty Images (2017)

Dear Ms. Smartphone: In the last post, you and the reader (Zack) seemed to yearn for the newest, latest phone. I have the opposite case. My husband has had the same phone for four years. He refuses to upgrade when I get a new one, even though the store is offering me a 2 for 1 deal for new phones. Is he wrong to want to stay put? Lacy, San Francisco.

Dear Lacy: It’s in the air this Fall : those stories about three hole picture taking and origami phones that fold and practically fly! It’s hard to resist them if you like to stay on top of new technology, and fuel the engines of Silicon Valley (and Korea). The replacement phone-cycle requires less money and commitment than the new car-cycle mentioned in the last post.

However, I see two reasons why your husband might be resistant to new phones even when there is no additional out-of-pocket expense. It is often time-consuming and onerous to switch from one phone model to another. It’s not like they come with instruction manuals! The new Apple phones lack a home button, so it will take swipes up and down to figure out what apps are opened and closed. The Android 10 also does away with the navigation buttons in favor of a gesture-based system. Until a user gets comfortable with these new features, they may make them error-prone and slow down their everyday communications. If you want your husband to get on board, you may need to show him how.

And, his reluctance may be one about consumerism at large. I found an interesting statistic (from 2017) that worldwide, the average global smartphone replacement cycle is only 21 months! Moreover, the rate is highest in emerging consumer markets. Some old phones end up in sock drawers. A few get handed-down. But, it’s reported that in the the US alone, 416,000 cellphones enter landfills or incinerators every day, where they release toxins into the air, water, and soil. And, add to the mix the old cords and adapters. There are environmental reasons why consumers hold on to phones longer, and seek less for the newest-latest-shiniest.

That said, it’s still more sustainable to recycle a phone every two years, versus a car. I am in favor of moving-on, and no user should be left fully behind.

Need New Phone.. Really?

My current smartphone works…why do I feel ‘pain to attain’ a new one?!

An ad for Warba Bank by We Plan. It is shows a VW bus going on an expedition "into" a larger-than-life smartphone.
Old car..New Phone! Source: WePlan- Warba bank

Dear Ms. Smartphone: It seems to happen every Fall. I see the ads for the new phones and I want so badly to get one. Since my current phone works well and it is compatible with the ones my friends use, I am conflicted about the real need for one! Zack, San Francisco

Dear Zack: With all the phone buzz (no pun), a lot of us are feeling that same “pain” to “attain.” Since I began this column on mobility, I wondered if there were parallels with the car industry.

Smartphones are in their infancy, so when we get a new phone there are step-up improvements. Cars used to be like that, and it made sense to reach for a safer, more efficient model.

But, over time, cars became more standardized and reliable. The two or three year trade in cycle for cars was done in by the recession and other factors.

That said, people need to be sold a reason to get a new phone.. or car. That’s where advertising comes in. For autos and trucks, advertising in the US is about $18 billion annually. It’s considerably less for smartphones: they live within the environment of mobile ads, if that makes sense.

You mention in your post that your current phone is compatible with the ones your friends use. Marketing people would call that a socio-cultural factor. There are economic issues, and psychological factors when it comes to buying or leasing a new phone. For example, which phone features do you weight heavily and pay attention to? Imagine the emotions you feel the ‘day-after’, once you unwrap the box and are routinely using the new device. In our culture, ‘the right call’ may be to try new things and keep ahead of the technology.

If you decide to get that new phone, consider donating your existing one to a senior or older person who is not tech-savvy.

I find that seniors tend to keep their smartphones and flip-phones ‘forever’. In the classes I teach, their older phones become a hindrance to being digital savvy and Internet aware.