Maybe it all started with AOL Instant Messenger when they were teens. They created acronyms like PIR (parent in room), 9 or PAW (for parents are watching), and other secret shortcuts to secure their privacy.
This new technology changed the way they communicated, disrupting the late 1950s teen telephone culture celebrated in the famous “Bye Bye Birdie” number, “Telephone Hour,” that spread the word about Hugo and Kim getting pinned. And of course, cultural norms have changed since the “Telephone Hour” participants asked, “Did he pin the pin on? Or was he too shy?”
That’s a far cry from LH6.
My first experience with this phenomenon was several years ago. I was working with an account exec at my agency on a project, and I left late in the afternoon to teach my class at Temple University, about 45 minutes away. Ten minutes into my drive, my phone alerted me to a text from the same account exec.
I called her using my Bluetooth and complained, “Why are you texting me? You know I’m driving now. That device you have in your hand is capable of making phone calls, you know.”
She responded, “Well I didn’t want to be intrusive.”
“Intrusive is making me pull over on the road to answer your text,” I replied.
Fast forward a few years when I was working with a Collegiate ECHO team on project to increase use of the Domino’s Pizza mobile app. I posed the question: “Why would I want to go through several phone screens to order a pizza when I can just call and say, ‘Make me a large pepperoni for pick up’?”
The team members replied, “So you don’t have to talk to anyone.” They went on to relate stories of late night pizza orders where friends argued over who was going to make the phone call.
This year, I had the opportunity to consult with a National Student Advertising Competition team about a similar project for Pizza Hut to increase the percentage of online orders. Same consensus. Their collective opinion, borne out by research with peers, is that they don’t want to talk to anyone on the phone.
One reason Millennials cite for eschewing phone ordering is making sure that their order is correct. But in my decades of ordering food over the phone, I can count the incorrect orders I’ve gotten on one hand. There’s something deeper than that.
Some of the published articles suggest that Millennials want to craft their messages carefully rather than have to engage in extemporaneous speech. Yet many of the voice phone-phobes I know are quite adept at casual conversation.
A codified use of punctuation allows texters to overcome the idea that non-personal communication fails to convey tone and emotion. Read what Jessica Bennett wrote in the Style section of the New York Times “When Your Punctuation Says It All (!).” She reports on a hierarchical use of question marks, exclamation points, and emojis to convey just the right amount of excitement or disdain.
Another group my students working on a research project for GrubHub related a comment from a focus group participant who said, “I’d be fine if I could just order online and have a drone drop off the food. That way I wouldn’t need to have any human contact.”
GrubHub capitalizes on this distaste for human phone contact in their 30-second “Flying Burrito” commercial: “GrubHub lets you order online for free from local restaurants without ever having to talk to another human being.” It’s interesting that the burrito in this spot seems to have a built-in delivery drone. The next big thing?
What’s the next step in this progression as technology evolves toward wearables? Look at the commercial for the Apple Watch. Sixty seconds, very few written words, most appearing on the screen. The only spoken words are when two old friends meet each other on the street and hug. There’s a lot of human contact and personal touching, despite the fact that a couple in the same room interact through their watches. The spot clearly positions the Watch as something that brings people closer together. Ironic?!!?
What would the authors of lifestyle articles written in the last century lamenting that “people don’t write letters any more” think?
What do you think?