Old but not voiceless – I’d rather talk than text


What kind of aptitude peaks when you’re a teenager, drops gradually throughout adulthood and declines rapidly in old age? Sexual prowess? Maths ability? Skateboarding?

It’s your DQ. Digital Quotient is the newly coined measure of your digital learning capacity.

old people u no understand tech

Meme mocking older people’s poor tech skills from Cheezburger website

I decided to take the online exam that the British national communications regulator Ofcom devised to determine one’s DQ. The questionnaire is designed to rate awareness and self-confidence around digital hardware and software. It finds out how smart you are about smart stuff from phones to watches. Your comprehension of impending developments affecting internet and phone connections is also assessed.

I am sorry, but not surprised, to report that I did not ace this test. I scored 98, which sounded pretty good until I learned that the average DQ of adults is 100, while a teenager’s DQ can be as high as 113. My DQ is not only less than most teens but well below the DQs of many 6-year-olds. Which means that children who can’t yet write their names or tie their shoelaces know more than me when it comes to things digital. (These kids may never bother learning to write with a pen or wear shoes with laces. Who needs those skills any more in this world of keyboards and velcro?)

This quiz to determine your DQ gives a statement and asks you to choose between these options: always / sometimes / hardly ever / never. When I saw the statement “I like working out how to use different gadgets” I knew the only truthful answer would be either “hardly ever” or “never”. It is this negative attitude towards instructions and manuals for anything digital that caused my mediocre score – and the similarly low DQs of most of my age mates.

Those with the highest DQs were born at the dawn of the New Millennium. The start of the 21st century coincided with the launch of broadband internet. No wonder 14- to 15-year-olds have the highest DQs. Born on the right side of the Digital Divide, they are the first to have had lifelong access to the World Wide Web. Now the youngest members of the Millennial Generation are using smartphones and tablets before they can talk.

chart showing Ofcom study results

How your score compared to the national average

Ofcom carries out research to help understand people’s awareness of technology and communications. Our research on people’s digital aptitude found that:

·       We’re at our most tech savvy between 14 – 15 years old – with an average score of 113

·       Over 60% of people aged over 55 score below average

·       Six-year-olds show the same confidence with technology as 45 year olds

2014 Communications Market Report by Ofcom, independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, released 7 August 2014

If these Digital Natives are the pioneers of Information and Communication Technologies, does that mean we should follow their lead? At our age? Which means everyone over 45, who this study exposed as having less understanding of digital technology than those 39 years younger.

Hold on, wait a nanosecond. Our grandparents would never have entertained the notion of emulating the social habits of children and teens. They would have laughed at the idea of taking their cues from their juniors. So why should we?

Let us return to that revealing study and ponder on this finding: the amount of time teens spend talking on the phone has dramatically decreased. What a contrast to how it was in our day. Teenagers, especially girls, spent hours tying up the family phone line gossiping with friends. But not any more.

As a result of growing up in the digital age, 12-15 year olds are developing fundamentally different communication habits than older generations, even compared to the advanced 16-24 age group. Children aged 12-15 are turning away from talking on the telephone. Just 3% of their communications time is spent making voice calls, while the vast majority (94%) is text based – such as instant messaging and social networking. By contrast, older generations still find it good to talk: 20% of UK adults’ communications time is spent on the phone on average. While adults also embrace digital text-based communications, the traditional email is most popular (used for 33% of their time spent communicating) compared to just 2% among 12-15s.

– UK survey results

The changes we see with 12-15-year-olds – spending so much time on social networks, texting and instant messaging that they are using the phone less and less – could be a millennium generation that is losing its voice.

– Jane Rumble, Head of Media Research at Ofcom

Teen on landline with coil cord

The way we used to use phones when we were teens: on a landline with a coil cord

So instead of talking to each other teens write messages full of bad grammar and spelling mistakes, and send photos and videos. And they have stopped emailing in favour of Instant Messaging on any of their devices. Device being the generic word for tablets, phones and laptops. BYOD is the new BYOB: Bring Your Own Device/Bottle.

My own informal survey reveals that the older people I know still like to talk on the phone.  Older people also like writing and receiving emails – newsy, chatty ones not unlike the letters we used to write by hand or with a typewriter and send by post. There is excitement when there’s a new message (if it’s not spam) in the Inbox. And we don’t really mind if replies are not instantaneous.

Further anecdotal reports show that older people are not nuts about sending text messages. Many have come to the view that life is too short for time-consuming thumb typing. It may seem old-fashioned but I still make phone calls. I refuse to spend my last communicative years typing out ungrammatical half-sentences on a teeny keyboard.

For all of us who still like to make phone calls but don’t like to pay for them, continued interest in voice calls has led to free or cheap “voice over Internet protocol” (VoIP) services.  Bravo for that rare example of needs-driven technological advancement. Happily for us, age has proved to be no barrier to using programs like Skype that turn your computer into a phone, with video as well (if you have the bandwidth). In fact, a mainstay of these services is calls to and from Mom and Dad or Granny and Grandpa.

Lastly, mention of the New Millennium reminded me of what we called it back in 1999: Y2K. Remember the hype, and the fears that computers would crash and supermarkets would empty? Despite the dire forecasts everything turned out fine on the 1st of January 2000… or did the second millennium start in 2001? This debate was supposedly settled in a 1997 episode of the Seinfeld sitcom, The Millennium. Actually it further confuses, but it’s nostalgic and funny.

Jerry’s pals, Newman and Kramer, discover they are planning rival millennium parties on December 31, 1999. Jerry tells Newman that he made his reservation one year late because he booked it for “the Millennium New Year”, 2001, which means that his party would be on December 31, 2000, since there was no Year 0. Newman squawks with frustration and leaves.

Doesn’t that mean his party is one year early? That confused me lol – Funny episode!
– comment by Frank Caronna

I love that noise Newman makes at the end.
– comment by kuroistuc



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