“I called the guy, got his voicemail, and as I was leaving a message I saw that the guy had just texted me, saying ‘Please text.’ I couldn’t believe it!”
The dude sharing this story was two years older than me, and one year shy of being a Millennial. I am one year past the Millennial cutoff. Yes, I’m technically a Millennial. I just made it.
We were in a conversation about the merits of texting vs. phone calls. Although we were two years apart, we fit our generational stereotypes perfectly. He prefers to call; I prefer to text.
There was a Gen Xer in that conversation as well, and I was decidedly outvoted. I could have kept arguing the merits of text, but I didn’t want to be argumentative.
Still, when elders moan “I don’t understand why people prefer to text! It just seems so much quicker to call!” (I thought Millennials were the ones who demanded instant gratification …?) my instinct is to share these five reasons why we prefer texting. Some of them are nobler than others, but all of them matter.
#1: Calling is rude
Hey, I’m just going to show up unannounced inside your house, or even in your pocket, and make a lot of noise until you acknowledge me. And if you refuse to acknowledge me, your voicemail box had better not be full, or I’m taking my marbles and going home.
Ever think about phone calling that way? Probably not, because our culture is so phone-acclimated. But that’s exactly what it is – intruding on other peoples’ bubbles.
Of course, we’re social creatures and we’re meant to enter each others’ bubbles. If a beloved friend, family member, or colleague calls, we get excited, same as we would if they were to drop by unexpectedly. But under normal circumstances, we carefully guard who we let into that bubble. It’s why we don’t give out our phone number to just anyone. (More on this in #5)
Texting at least leaves us the privilege of deciding when we are ready to interact, then responding based on our own schedule.
Let’s not forget that the ubiquity of the telephone is less than 100 years old. That puts it 100% within the effective memory of every living human, but go back just one or two generations, and widespread telephone usage was not a thing. The only surefire way of long-distance communication was text. On paper. With an assist from postal, telegraph, or messenger services. Go back a little further, and that state of affairs lasted the whole other 6,000 years of recorded history. 6,000 years, vs. 100 years. In other words, we texters are not the aberrant weirdos. You phone-callers are.
#2: Texting actually is quicker
Older generations think a phone call is quicker. That’s not always the case, or even usually the case. A phone call usually burns time with small talk (also known as “relationship building,” which sounds virtuous but can be its own can of worms – see #4 and #5). Have a detailed question and the respondent needs to look up the answer, or put you on hold while he asks around? Enjoy waiting on the line. Recipient didn’t pick up? It takes as long to leave a voice mail as it does to send a text, and then you’re waiting for a call back to get the answer anyway. Except people tend to check their texts more often than their voicemails, so you end up waiting longer. This is why, although I acknowledge that a phone call is sometimes quicker and more efficient, I’ll usually immediately email or text if I miss the guy. Many Millennials are lightning-fast texters. Part of this is a trust thing. We will text back! It’s what we do!
#3: There’s a paper trail
You want a price quote, and think it’s so much quicker to get one over the phone than by text? There’s a chance you’re right … but what if we later have a dispute over the agreed-upon price? Text messages are a paper trail that people can be held to. It’s an era of corruption and double-dealing, and Millenials are savvy to that. They assume people who refuse to leave a paper trail don’t plan to honor their word. This plays into #4, which is a biggie …
#4: Millenials prefer to make decisions based on data, not emotion
This, right here. Older generations call it “bad people skills” and usually blame social media. Millennials call it “not being played for a sucker.”
Millennials grew up in the information age and we love data. We make decisions based on data. What’s the best price? This one’s more expensive? Well, does it have a higher star rating? Which service has the reputation for being the quickest?
Know what we don’t like to take into account? The dulcet voice tones of a charismatic salesperson. Remember Boiler Room and The Wolf of Wall Street? Nicki Katt in Boiler Room specifically says of the life-savings-draining chop shop he sells stocks for, “This business revolves around the phone.”
The sales profession hinges on the ABC principle from Glengarry Glen Ross – always be closing. Celebrity sales trainers like Grant Cardone believe that the conviction of a silver-tongued salesman is socially necessary, to overcome the objections of reluctant customers to connect them truly valuable and useful products or services. That may sometimes be true, but experience tells us that the same tactics are often used to sell unsavvy consumers shit they don’t need and even things that are actively detrimental to them.
It’s hard to stoke emotion by text. It’s easy to share data.
Maybe it is a character flaw that Millennials are easily talked into things; we’re people pleasers, YOLO-believers, and we don’t like saying no. But don’t blame us if our response to that weakness is to make it harder for you to get to us. You can’t fault us for an effective strategy. See #1 and #5.
#5: We get junk calls
This is related to #4. Millennials love web apps and clickbait, and we enter our phone number and email address at the drop of a hat to get them. As a result, we end up on lists and get tons of junk emails and phone calls. As a result, we screen our calls.
I think it’s hilarious when an elder blusters about how no one picks up the phone anymore; this guy is usually trying to sell me something, and it’s his own fault – he’s from the generation that broke the phone with telemarketing and robocalls. #sorrynotsorry, sport. Leave a voice mail or text. I will call you back, if the data tips the scales in your favor. If it doesn’t, I won’t. (See #4.)
Sales calls frequently start with the salesperson trying to build rapport, acting as if you’re old friends and obfuscating the commercial nature of the call. Many sales scripts explicitly state this as the goal – build trust and relationship quickly. This is to gloss over the fact that the unwanted intrusion into the consciousness of a stranger is inherently invasive. (See #1.)
Older generations hang on to vestiges of privacy (see #1) by blocking their number from call screening and by never entering their phone number or email address into any sign-up field. All this means, Gen Xers, is that you are permanently cut off from us unless you take the plunge into text, email, and DM. I was unable to connect on the phone with my older cousin a few years ago. I really wanted to talk to her, because I had a sensitive issue that I didn’t want in writing (see #3). I called her, missed her, left a message. She called me back from a blocked number. I didn’t answer, because experience tells me that 99 out of 100 blocked numbers are salespeople or robocalls. I tried to call her back. I missed her again and left another voicemail. She called me back from the same blocked number. This went back and forth until I gave up and continued the conversation by Facebook direct message. I never got to have the sensitive conversation.
It was worth it, though, because if I answered every call, at least two hours of my day would be taken up by saying the words “Sorry, not interested,” then another hour locking back into the task at hand after the interruption.
Go ahead and kid yourselves that we are walling ourselves off; there’s a whole multibillion-dollar online economy we’re participating in, which you’re welcome to hang up the phone and join. Honestly, by refusing to join the text economy, we see the older generations as walling themselves off from us, not vice-versa. Hell, you’re the ones who taught us to write!
Do you prefer calling, text, or neither? Why?