Jane Beard and Jeffrey Davis didn't realize how little they speak to their children by phone until they called AT&T to switch plans. The customer service agent was breathless. The Silver Spring couple had accumulated 28,700 unused minutes.
"None of the kids call us back! They will not call you back," said Beard, a former actress who with her husband coaches business leaders on public speaking.
A generation of e-mailing, followed by an explosion in texting, has pushed the telephone conversation into serious decline, creating new tensions between baby boomers and millennials -- those in their teens, 20s and early 30s.
Nearly all age groups are spending less time talking on the phone; boomers in their mid-50s and early 60s are the only ones still yakking as they did when Ma Bell was America's communications queen. But the fall of the call is driven by 18- to 34-year-olds, whose average monthly voice minutes have plunged from about 1,200 to 900 in the past two years, according to research by Nielsen. Texting among 18- to 24-year-olds has more than doubled in the same period, from an average of 600 messages a month two years ago to more than 1,400 texts a month, according to Nielsen.
Young people say they avoid voice calls because the immediacy of a phone call strips them of the control that they have over the arguably less-intimate pleasures of texting, e-mailing, Facebooking or tweeting. They even complain that phone calls are by their nature impolite, more of an interruption than the blip of an arriving text.
Kevin Loker, 20, a rising junior at George Mason University, said he and his school friends rarely just call someone, for fear of being seen as rude or intrusive. First, they text to make an appointment to talk. "They'll write, 'Can I call you at such-and-such time?' " said Loker, executive editor of Connect2Mason.com, a student media site. "People want to be polite. I feel like, in general, people my age are not as quick on their feet to just...
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