I’m just gonna dive right in.
Generational cohorts are quirky little things. You know the ones I’m talking about, right? Those unique groups of people who were born around the same time or during a specific period in history, like Baby Boomers or Gen Xers or Millennials or Gen Zers, like my kids. Groups that are all a wee bit cliquish because they’re connected by a bunch of defining characteristics that the other cohorts just can’t relate to because they didn’t live them, like technology or war or societal attitudes.
They’re funky little communities because each of them bond over those unique characteristics within their own groups because they get each other. They know what it’s like to grow up with or without the stuff they had. But, outside their age bracket, they just can’t relate with other age demographics about certain things, like how Millennials have no concept of what it was like to live during a war. Or how the Boomers don’t understand what it’s like to grow up connected to personal computers or smartphones or social media. Or how the Gen Z kids aren’t wired to navigate a rotary phone or use a calling card or a payphone.
I mean, each generation has their own kooky little cohort nuances that make relating to the generations around them a challenge. I get that. But the one that’s been blowing my mind lately, is the one that Gen Zers (and some Millennials) seem to have about actually getting annoyed when somebody calls them on their phone. You know, without sending them a warning text or a flare or a written announcement that the call is coming. Just a plain old-fashioned cold call to say hi or make plans or talk.
Now I don’t know about you, but it’s become super apparent to me (by virtue of my own kids, their friends, and the world at-large) that not too many Generation Z kids regularly pick up the phone when someone calls them. Or picks up the phone to call someone else. At least not as often as you’d expect, considering the one thing that’s a guarantee with a teenager or a young adult is that they’ll always have their phone on them.
It’s kinda nutty to me that this generation doesn’t seem to like the intrusion of someone reaching out to them without advance notice. I mean, I know so many kids, my daughters included, who just don’t like having phone calls spontaneously sprung on them because they just don’t like being put on the spot.
And I think that’s it right there. The Gen Zers want two very specific things. First, they want everything to happen in real time. Instant gratification. But (and here’s the second thing), they want those things to happen on their terms. When they’re ready. When they feel like they’re in the mood to respond or connect or react. And that’s fascinating to me, especially as a mom of two of them.
So clearly, that’s why they interact so much more across their social media platforms than over the actual phone feature on their phones. They do it because, when they decline a call, they stay in control. And by opting to communicate through interfaces like texts or DMs or Snapchats, they’ve always got plenty of time to think about what they want to say and how they want to say it. A phone call, though, that means they could be caught off guard. And to a Gen Zer or even a Millennial, that’s just straight up rude. Because that means small talk and carrying on a conversation and a lot of Gen Zers would just rather keep it short and simple and not run the risk of getting snagged in a conversation. Instead, they’d rather be able to think through their response and not have to deal with the awkwardness of a real dialog with another person. And I do sort of get that, because no one likes being caught off guard or put on the spot. But having a conversation with another person is kind of a critical life skill that we all need to work to preserve. So I just worry that, eventually, the art of talking on the phone will die out. And that’s sad.
I did find something encouraging though, that makes me think that the Gen Z kids will ultimately be ok. It was an article on Talkative, out of the United Kingdom, that supports the idea that video chatting through apps like FaceTime and Skype is becoming the new normal for Millennials and Generation Z. So, I guess that’s at least a happy medium because it reinforces talking skills, like the ones we use during a generic phone call, and pairs it with the real-time ability to interact with the person we’re talking to. So that’s good. And maybe that’s just where we’re all headed as we all evolve - to a place where we can see and hear each other and look people in the eye. Even if it’s still only through a screen. And who knows, maybe the generation that comes after Gen Z will bring back the old rotary phone and the party line. Evolution is cyclical, after all. Right? It could happen. I have hope.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at lisasugarman.com. Or, find them on LittleThings.com, Hot Moms Club, BeingAMom.life, GrownandFlown.com, More Content Now, and Care.com. She is also the author of “LIFE: It Is What It Is and Untying Parent Anxiety: 18 Myths That Have You in Knots - And How to Get Free” available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at select bookstores.
It Is What It Is: For Gen Zers, telephonophobia is a thing
I’m just gonna dive right in.