CHICAGO - Anna Schiferl hadn't even rolled out of bed when she reached for her cellphone and typed a text to her mom, one recent Saturday. Mom was right downstairs in the kitchen. The text? Anna wanted cinnamon rolls for breakfast.
Soon after, the 13-year-old could hear her mom's voice echoing through the house. "Anna," Joanna Schiferl called, "if you want to talk to me, you come downstairs and see me!"
"I was kind of being lazy," the teen from suburban Chicago conceded. "I know that sounds horrible."
Well, maybe not horrible, but certainly increasingly typical.
Statistics from the Pew Internet & American Life Project show that many people prefer texting over a phone call. It's not always young people, though the data indicate that the younger you are, the more likely you are to prefer texting.
And that creates a communication divide -- talkers vs. texters. Some would argue that it's no big deal.
But many experts say the most successful communicators will, of course, have the ability to do both, talk or text, and know the most appropriate times to use those skills. And they fear that more of us are losing our ability to have the traditional face-to-face conversations that are vital in the workplace and personal relationships.
"It is an art that's becoming as valuable as good writing," said Janet Sternberg, a professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University in New York who is also a linguist.
In the most extreme cases, she's noticed that more students don't look her in the eye and have trouble with the basics of direct conversation -- habits that, she said, will not serve them well as they enter a world where many of their elders still expect an in-person conversation, or at the very least a phone call.
On today's college campuses, the dynamic is often different. Forget about things like "office hours," for instance. Many professors say they rarely see students outside of class.
"I sit in my office hours lonely now because if students have a question, they e-mail, often late at night," said Renee Houston, an associate professor of communication studies at the University of Puget Sound in Washington state.
"And they never call, ever."
She recalls overhearing students chuckling about the way people older than them communicate.
"My parents left me a voice mail. Can you believe it?" one said, as if voice mail had gone the way of the dinosaurs.
This doesn't sound particularly troublesome to Lisa Auster-Gussman, who'll be a senior this fall at the University of Richmond in Virginia. For her, there are simply particular tools she uses to communicate, depending on the recipient.
E-mail is for professors, yes. Phone calls and maybe the occasional text are for parents.
"But I don't communicate much with older people. So much of my life is set up over text," said Auster-Gussman, who sends and receives an average of about 6,000 text messages a month.
Many are done as "group texts," sharing messages among eight college friends who live in the same building. The interactions are nothing more than you'd say in a casual conversation, Auster-Gussman said -- but they are constant when they're not together.
Recently, for instance, she went to a movie and came out to find 50 text messages waiting for her on her phone.
Last summer, when she was away from her boyfriend, she went days without talking to him on the phone, but texted with him several times a day.
"You're not even really talking to him," she remembers her perplexed father saying. "But I felt like I was talking to him all day, every day," she said.
Is there some aversion to talking on the phone? Not really, she said. It's just a preference. In this day and age, it's just what you do.
As Anna, the 13-year-old in suburban Chicago, sees it: "There are people you'll text, but won't call. It's just awkward that way. It's not about anything important -- just a way to stay in touch with each other."
She and her closest friends also send each other videos of themselves and their surroundings -- maybe of their dogs or something new in their bedroom. "People would probably say, like, 'Why don't you just call them?'" Anna said.
Experts say there is, of course, nothing wrong with casual conversation and fun between friends. One could argue that the constant banter -- scores of texts each day -- keep people more connected. The problem, some communication experts say, is that the conversation isn't particularly deep -- and therein lies the problem, said Joseph Grenny, coauthor of the book "Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High."
"The core problem has existed since we've had telephones -- probably since the time of a telegraph," Grenny said. "We loathe having crucial conversations. We are paralyzed and do what we can to avoid them."
That applies to any generation, he said. Texting is just the latest way to do that.
Parents should set example
Though they may not always be so good at deep conversations themselves, Grenny suggested that parents model the behavior for their children and put down their own mobile devices. He said they also should set limits, as Anna's mom did when she enforced the "no texting to people under the same roof" rule.
Anna's mom, Joanna Schiferl, is more worried about the effect that texting is having on her daughter's writing skills than her social skills. Anna tends to rush her writing and pays less attention to grammar, or uses abbreviations she'd use in a text. It is a common observation among parents.