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THE SPITZ TAKE: Can we still talk?

By Julia Spitz/Daily News staff MetroWest Daily News

Get a group of teens or 20-somethings together, and they won’t talk to one another because they’re all too busy texting other people. They communicate in 140 characters or less, and don’t see any reason for writing a thank-you note rather than messaging TY.

The theory would be a cinch to prove if it weren’t for people like Dwayne and a few eons of history. Oh, there’s plenty of evidence that Millennials/Generation 9/11 are different from the rest of us, that growing up with amazing technology and plenty of parental bubble-wrap affected their standards of social interaction.

Get a group of teens or 20-somethings together, and they won’t talk to one another because they’re all too busy texting other people. They communicate in 140 characters or less, and don’t see any reason for writing a thank-you note rather than messaging TY. They can reconfigure their cellphone apps in seconds flat, but ask them to actually call someone on that phone and you’ll get a look of sheer panic. They have almost no experience engaging in chitchat because they were never encouraged to talk with salesclerks or other people who might be deemed strangers. We’ve all heard observations along those lines. Most of us have made such observations ourselves. They’re not without merit.

“Digital communication allows us to build an enormous community, but the relationships are long distance,” said Janet Parnes, an etiquette expert from Millis whose seminar offerings include job interview preparation for college students.

Not having practice interpreting body language or voice inflection does make a difference when young people enter a workforce where such skills are paramount,” said Parnes, who will soon be conducting a class for local teens being mentored through the John Andrew Mazie Memorial Foundation.

“When I interview new mentors, I always ask, ‘Can you text?’,” said Lauren Kracoff, director of the Mazie Mentoring Program. “With teenagers, that’s how they’re going to communicate, and we have to go with it.”

But the program, which has matched 500 Framingham High students with community mentors in the past 16 years, also shows that kids can and do learn to establish relationships with people of a different generation.

And it’s not as if older generations aren’t guilty of getting glued to cellphones and iPads.

“We need to look at the benefits” of our gadgets as well as the downsides, said Parnes. “They have their place, but we need to realize what that place is.”

When we are so busy sharing updates with our vast network of social media contacts that we don’t take the time to talk with the people at the dinner table, “we lose the opportunities to enrich our lives. … I hope we’re not losing our appreciation for the human touch,” she said.

“We have weather for a reason,” said Jake Livengood, director of Career Services and Employer Relations at Framingham State University. “To give us something to talk about.”

The challenge can be getting a generation less familiar with social chitchat to become more practiced in the art.

Published: Nov. 3, 2013