When my son entered 5th grade he told me Middle Schoolers get iPhones.
The justification was that he might need to call home in an emergency.
It’s hard to believe, but for the first year the phone mostly stayed in the backpack. Then it emerged to play video games. Soon after it took over.
He’s 15 now and the phone is glued to his hand just like it’s attached to mine. But he and his friends use it totally differently.
They watch YouTube videos of people playing video games, which seems like a dumb idea and something I would never do.
They also watch instructional videos to learn stuff — like how to solve Rubik’s Cube — which seems like a great idea but also something I would never do.
He doesn’t have Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat. He has Gmail, but rarely checks it. They use a social network called Discord, in part because gamers use it and in part because it works better than Skype.
Discord allows them to play games and video chat at the same time. Which is another great idea that adults don’t do.
Most of the time they group text. He texts the Friend Group all the time. The phone barely buzzes before its out of his pocket. His fingers fly across the digital keyboard. The responses are short and fast.
My younger son is 11. He started texting a group of his friends this year. He mostly uses his phone to watch YouTube. He rarely uses apps or search.
My mobile logs for the past 24 hours show I spent 26% of my time texting, followed by 9% on maps, 8% on Twitter and 7% on LinkedIn. By contrast, my eleven-year old, spent 86% of his online time on YouTube.
Maybe that will change, but maybe not.
When you text your kids you can expect a quick response.
But not a long one.
The texts are usually monosyllabic.
Here’s a dialogue with my 11-year old:
A conversation with my 15 year old wasn’t any more expansive, though it does evidence teenage wit. As usual, I start with a question:
I’m sure kids say more when they text their friends.
But it’s impossible to confirm that since the presence of an adult exerts a kind of Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, changing the behavior.
Ironically, when I text my parents the responses look pretty similar:
Watching my kids text gave me the idea to try the same thing with my own Friend Group, a group of guys I went to high school with 35 years ago.
It’s not an exaggeration to say its been life changing. Studies show that re-telling childhood stories and staying in contact with old friends helps keep you grounded and gives you purpose. It literally makes you healthier.
There are nine of us and sometimes people post short notes. But often they write long rants about politics or life or loss. We could use email, but email is less immediate and feels less communal.
My friends share accounts of their kids going to college and their kids coming home from college. One friend is selling his house and another is having minor surgery. Birthdays are never forgotten.
We touch on sports — from the World Cup to Wimbledon — and share highlights from skiing trips in Europe to hiking trips in Colorado.
The stories are punctuated by the announcement of some sudden loss, like the unexpected death of a former college roommate.
And of course an awful lot of the oxygen in the conversation is taken up by Trump, just like in the rest of America.
Periodically someone drops in a vintage photograph from a day in high school when we all went to the beach.
Because we are old there are rules. I’m the cause of most of them. As a result of an infraction on my part there’s a decree against texting after 11 p.m. Also, there is prohibition against making major life announcements during the Super Bowl.
It took me a few years to get this going. Initially I pitched Facebook, but they refused. They are characterized by a lack of enthusiasm for technology. No one has ever put a GIF in the chat and I’m sure some don’t know what that is.
My friends are the kind of people who would have made fun of others for texting photos of lunch. But as you get older you realize that is what you miss the most and what you want the most: reminders of the day-to-day routine and the rhythm of the lives of the people you love.
Before the text group started we could go years without communicating. Everyone is busy, after all. Now, there is no event too small to mention.
I ran into another friend from high school recently and she asked if I kept up with anyone from our hometown. I told her that I did.
“When was the last time you heard from the guys,” she asked.
“About ten minutes ago,” I said.
She looked at me incredulously.
“How is that possible?” she asked.
“We text all day long,” I explained.
“Just like your kids.”
**Published by Ted Merz Jul 18, 2018**