2txt or n2txt?

Effective communication depends not just on the means we use to communicate but on the people involved and the circumstances that bring them together

October 14, 2015
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Group of youths communicating via text message

The means we use to communicate with one another affect the character of the interaction. That seems obvious, but the ramifications are easy to miss until you have an experience like the one I recently had while interviewing candidates interested in leasing a studio apartment.

I updated the online ad and placed it on Craigslist, as I had in the past, but that was where any resemblance to my past experience ended. A lot had changed in the four years since our last tenant moved in, including Craigslist itself, which now shares content with a number of other housing sites, including Zillow and HotPads. That meant more inquiries from places—and in ways—I didn’t expect.

Although I included my cell number in the ad, most initial inquires came via an anonymous email link that the housing sites provided. Those messages often included the respondent’s name and almost always their cell number, but I replied via email because it was easiest. However, my “signature” includes my cell number, so in almost every case, the second contact was via text message.

Texting is not rocket science, but despite my familiarity and comfort with the technology, in this situation it took some getting used to, for a couple of reasons. First, to figure out who the text message was coming from, I had to cross check my email account to find the original entry. Otherwise all I had was a cell number. (In one case, that was literally true until the candidate showed up at the door.) Once I had that name, I could link subsequent texts to someone about whom I was quickly accumulating information as to when and what time we might meet at the apartment.

Second, although my cellphone is almost always with me, I am not in the habit of checking it every time I get a notification. But my respondents, almost exclusively Millennials, clearly are. Their phones are either in their hand or close to it at all times, so for them the back and forth of texting is immediate, like a conversation. While I have managed that in text exchanges with a single person, it got a little dicey when a half-dozen threads were simultaneously active.

The original SMS (Short Message Service) technology for sending text messages, which turns 23 this December, is declining in favor of MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) and other technologies that can send images, video, and other types of content between devices. That said, text messaging by whatever means is on the increase, largely because most smartphones come with a default messaging app built-in.

But effective communication also depends on the people involved and the circumstances that bring them together. And as my apartment-leasing experience shows, generational differences matter. The Millennials I met experienced the world through their phones—so much so that upon arriving at the apartment building, instead of looking into the lobby through the glass doors where I could clearly see them, they preferred to stop 20 feet short and text me “I am here.”

I leased the apartment to a recent college grad who first contacted me via a phone call from his mother. Did that initial voice call, Boomer to Boomer, make the difference?

u nvr no.

About the Author

About the Author

Sal Alfano is executive editor for Professional Remodelersalfano@sgcmail.com, 202.365.9070

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