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Disconnected: The death of the telephone

I remember my first phone. Pale brown. Push-button. It hung on the kitchen wall in the house where I grew up. Eventually its cord became stretched and tangled, the result of oh-so-many attempts to stretch the receiver into a private corner that never could be.

That was back when you still memorized phone numbers. When most families had one phone. When you could spend hours talking to the same guy at night, listening to each other breathe, challenging each other to hang up first.

That was back when I used to run when the phone rang.

Now I just get annoyed.

Come to think of it, the only people I have real phone conversations with today are both over the age of 70 (and I usually have those chats on my cell phone while driving to work). Everybody else, whether it's for business or pleasure, communicates with me via email, text or a Facebook wall post.

The sight of the message light blinking on my land line actually startles me. I can go days without listening to my voice mail, which is usually full of nothing but audio spam from politicians, the school system, and some woman who calls me two or three times a day offering a scheme to pay off all my debt.

The only people who seem more reluctant than me to talk on the phone are my kids. They look at me in horror when I ask them to answer the phone or call their grandparents. So it didn't really surprise me when a recent Nielsen report found that today's teens are spending far less than other age groups talking on the phone. Teenagers today spend an average of 515 minutes per month on the phone, compared with 750 minutes for people between the ages of 18 and 24. Instead, kids today communicate in text messages. Teens ages 13-17 send an average 3,364 mobile texts per month, more than double the rate of the next active texting demo of 18-24 year olds.

I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. It's just a different way of communicating. I'm not going to wring my hands over the lost art of phone conversation. But I do have one question for today's finger-flying teens: How do you listen to someone breathe in a text message?

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