Digging deeper on texts

By YP cadet Sharon Lee

YP cadet Sharon Lee looks closely at why you prefer to 'talk' to your friends without actually ever saying a word

By YP cadet Sharon Lee |

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On a scale of 1 to 10, how dependent are you on your mobile phone?

Phubbing, the habit of snubbing people in favour of mobile phones (phone + snubbing, get it?), is growing more common among young people. The reason is that more find it easier to communicate by texting on a phone rather than by talking.

And yet, St James' Settlement's Continued Education Centre manager John Lau and social worker Cecilia Ng Kam-kuen of the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups say an interesting twist has been happening among young Hongkongers.

"Despite the increase in the quantity and speed of communication with the help of text messages, the quality, sophistication and length of the messages have been decreasing," Lau says.

Trained by apps such as WhatsApp, young people tend to give quick but brief responses. "Young people are too shy to express their own ideas in long sentences, so they prefer to give short responses or text replies. This can lead to trouble once you start working," Lau adds.

"Young people may have trouble expressing themselves formally and orally in front of their colleagues. However, they think that a brief text message is polite enough to explain things to their elders."

Lau says the burden, then, is on other age groups to catch up on mobile phone use if they want to continue to fit into society. "There is no turning back," he says. "This is the way people are going to connect with one another for generations to come. I think the increased frequency of communication is positive, because it brings a sharing of culture where everyone is keen to share their knowledge and opinions. In the long run, I think this leads to a more fair and well-informed society."

Ng points out the trend of young people expressing themselves through the written word began a number of years ago when they started writing blogs.

"From Xanga to Facebook, I've observed that young people are more comfortable expressing themselves through text than through spoken words," she says.

Why? East Asian cultures tend to reject confrontations at any age, anyway. So, Ng says, by communicating using the written word, you avoid awkwardness and spontaneous responses.

"Young people, still in the awkward stage of growth, are shy and lack confidence," she says.

"Thus, it is understandable for them to avoid embarrassing social situations like not being able to give decent, immediate responses to questions."

Texting, then, "makes communication convenient and not awkward", Ng says.

By delaying a reply, the pressure of a possibly awkward situation or confrontation can be reduced.

So, even though texting has its advantages in some social situations for young people, it still might be better to put the phone away during gatherings with friends and family. Time spent in their presence is still more valuable than any text message you might get.

After all, you might be the next victim when somebody you want to spend quality time with starts phubbing you.