Somnambulant Texting

By Tom Peters |

Eighteen months ago (11.5 Internet years), during the most recent Petersian Congress (the highfalutin name we’ve given to our triennial family reunion), we ribbed our niece (then 16 years old) about her apparent ability to continue texting messages on her cell phone as she fell asleep.  Someone snapped a picture of her in blissful repose with her fingers still poised on the tiny little keyboard.

Today’s report from the Kaiser Family Foundation about the media habits of 8-18 year-olds confirms that my niece is part of a mainstream movement of her generation, not an outlier.  Today’s tweens and teens have a voracious appetite for portable media experiences.   If libraries hope to become and remain integral to their lives, we librarians need to wake up and smell the coffee.  

Here are a few fun facts to know and tell from the report, titled Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds: 

  • The average tween/teen spends 7 hours, 38 minutes each day involved in one or more media experiences–media multitasking is rampant.  That average is up from 6:21 in 2004.
  • Because of media multitasking, the average tween/teen manages to pack 10:45 of media content into that 7:38 timeframe.
  • 2:07 of the average daily media consumption occurs on mobile devices such as cell phones, iPods, and portable gaming devices.  I bet that figure is higher today than it was when the report was written.
  • 66 percent of the teens/tweens who participated in the study owned their own cell phone.  76 percent owned an MP3 player.
  • “Use of every type of media has increased over the past 10 years, with the exception of reading.” (p. 2)  Reading was defined as visual reading for pleasure, not school, of anything printed on paper, from CosmoGirl to War and Peace.  The good news here is that the decline occurred mainly through a fall-off in reading magazines and newspapers.  The amount of time this group spent reading books actually increased slightly over the past 10 years, from 21 to 25 minutes per day on average.   Read all about it:  Tolstoy beats CosmoGirl in Smackdown. 
  • The real growth years in this context are ages 11 to 14, when media use explodes.
  • Differences in media use in relation to race and ethnicity were pronounced.  Hispanic tween/teens spend 13:00 per day on media consumption, Blacks spend 12:59, and Whites spend 8:36. 
  • The average tween/teen who texts (not counted as media use in this study) sends 118 text messages per day, every day, including weekends, major and minor holidays, and triennial family reunions.

How in the world do they find time to spoon?

Actually, the data gathered for today’s report are kinda old and pre-Twitterish.  Today’s New York Times article on the report (“If Your Kids Are Awake, They’re Probably Online”–an article title with implied limitations that my niece overcame nearly 12 Internet years before it was written!) states that the data were collected from October 2008 through May 2009.  Participants in the study completed an extensive written questionnaire and a subgroup kept diaries, recording their media experiences in half-hour increments. 

Heavy use of media, especially via personal, portable information, communication, and entertainment devices, is not limited to American tweens and teens.  The cell phone has quickly become the worldwide giant among media devices.  The International Telecommunications Union based in Geneva, Switzerland, reports that, as of the end of 2009 (3 weeks ago, or .4 Internet years), there  were over 4.6 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide (67 subscriptions for every 100 people) (  

Long ago (more Internet years than I care to count) cell phone use surpassed other major recent technologies, such as computers, toasters, and iPods.  Apparently only the television set and such fundamental human technologies as clothing and eating utensils have experienced broader worldwide adoption and diffusion than the cell phone, and the cell phone has experienced the most rapid worldwide diffusion of any technology in recorded history. 

Awake, librarians!  You have nothing to lose but your landlines.  If you are involved in library-related work (I bet you are), you should run, not walk, to your board, director, dean, department head, or some other authority figure and insist that your library ramp up or begin planning to deliver library services, content, and systems to all these users of portable media devices.  Don’t let the current economic downturn lull you to sleep.  Run, don’t walk, I say, even if you are reading this while you’re asleep.  Rest assured that legions of somnambulant texting teens are engaging in multifarious information, communication, and entertainment activities while we librarians blithely rest on our pulpy laurels.