Moving from the desk to the back pants pocket: IM’s transition to Text Messaging

From Technology and Parenting Blog, 2008

Many times parents ask me what I see as some of the changes coming over the horizon. From my perspective, the clearest trend has to do with mobility.  It won’t be long before the idea of going to a desk to work on a computer will seem completely confining and out of date. I don’t think that day is far away.  (I type this as I am sprawled out on my couch, with my laptop perched on my lap. )

For the last few years, kids who use technology to talk with their friends have often used a computer-based Instant Messenger program. For many teens, that means sitting in front of the family computer and pulling up to the keyboard.  That also means that we, as parents, had a certain degree of control over how and when the computer was used. That, however, is quickly changing.  According to most of the young people I’ve talked with over the past few months, IM is for the little middle schoolers who don’t have phones yet.  IM is being quickly replaced with text messaging.  As texting plans get cheaper and phones get easier to use, more and more young people use their thumbs to do the talking.
The implications of this move from the family computer to the anywhere, anytime cell phone is unclear.  The research that has been done suggests that IM messages tend to be longer.  Because it is still tricky to type a big long paragraph into a cell phone, IM may be preferred for the deep, intimate conversations.  However, as technology makes typing easier, it won’t be long before the extended conversations will be much easier and more convenient using the cell phone.  According to my students, cell phones also make things seem more personal, more intimate.  Instead of sitting at the desk typing, young people can text in their beds or in their private places.  Because the phone is almost an appendage, texting becomes even more personal.

This instant mobility also makes parental supervision a bit more tricky.  One mom says she requires her kids park their cell phones on the kitchen counter before they go to bed at night.  That eliminates the late night text parties.  Another mom says she goes through her daughter’s bill, with her daughter at her side, and looks for the times of texts.  She said while this seemed to help her daughter place limits on texts, it also cost extra for all the piles of paper that came as part of her fully detailed billed.

So, if you are a parent who is so proud that you have finally mastered the IM program on your computer, I hate to say it, but you better figure out how to use the text function on the phone instead.  As technology speeds along and as students become more proficient in texting (over half of the last group of high school students I talked with said they could text an entire message behind their back without looking) life will become more mobile, harder to supervise, and even harder to disconnect.  But don’t worry, by the time you get really fast at texting, our kids will have found a whole new way to hang out with their friends.

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