Teens, Texting, and Social Isolation
Our recent report, Teens and Mobile Phones, found that more teens report contacting their friends on a daily basis using texting (54%) than interacting with them face-to-face outside of school (33%). Some recent commentary suggests that this is evidence that teens are becoming less social.
There are several points to be made. First, as noted above, the question on face-to-face interaction with friends was limited to only asking about this type of interaction outside of school. If school-time face-to-face interaction were to be included in the data the picture would be somewhat different. Second, Pew Internet data shows that face-to-face interaction is holding relatively steady. In 2006, 31% reported daily face-to-face interaction with their friends. In 2007 this rose to 39%, in 2008 it fell to 29%, and in the 2009 survey, it was 33%. While there have been fluctuations, there is not a clear upward or downward tendency in the percent of teens reporting daily face-to-face contact with their friends.
Finally, other material in the report indicates that texting is happening in addition to other forms of social interaction. Thus, another interpretation is that teens actually have more access and more informal, casual contact because of texting. This is because texting is woven into the flow of other activities. In essence their friends are always there and always available for a texting “chat.” This interpretation follows from the material on texting in class, texting at night, and in a variety of other situations. Rather than becoming monks sitting in their cells, the material may actually point in the direction of more social interaction, not less.