SCOTT SIMON, host:
Here in NPR, we've been talking about the joys and the travails of email this week, but there are plenty of other technologies that connect us: text messaging, instant messaging, Skype, FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter. The list keeps growing. NPR's Laura Sydell has a look at how people are navigating the wider way of choices.
LAURA SYDELL: Lenny Shaver has to be connected for work. Hi, Lenny.
Mr. LENNY SHAVER (Marketing, Silicon Valley Tech Firm): Hi, Laura.
SYDELL: Nice to meet you.
Mr. SHAVER: Nice to meet you.
SYDELL: Shaver is 35 years old, he does marketing for a Silicon Valley tech firm. As we sit down in Shaver's home office, I see he's got several IM chats going. Shaver also text messages and uses Skype's internet phone service.
Mr. SHAVER: The funny thing is that sometimes you can have all three going simultaneously, which means you can have multiple layers of conversations, like you could be in a teleconference with business or client, and then, you can in the background, be sending text messages to your colleagues who are also on the phone call, but maybe not in a room with you. They're in a different country or different state.
SYDELL: Shaver says all the different forms of communication have their uses. Email is for official communications that need to be documented. IM often replaces a quick phone call. Text messaging isn't for everyone.
Mr. SHAVER: It is for me. It's going right to someone's cell phone. It's still a little bit more personal. I don't send text messages to the CEO, but I'll send an email.
SYDELL: In the 45 minutes I was in Shaver's house, I saw him use six different types of communication.
Dr. CLIFFORD NASS (Communications, Stanford University): If you look at these psychology textbooks, they basically say that what we see happening, can't happen.
SYDELL: That's Clifford Nass, professor of communications at Stanford University. This may not surprise you, but at one time psychologists thought it was impossible for people to have two intelligent conversations at once.
Dr. NASS: There's a problem called interference which is, if you for example hear two conversations at once, your brain is likely to mix the two together leading to confusion. And the more communications, the more conversations, the more chaotic the communication would be.
SYDELL: Nass says he and other social scientists suspect that many of us are walking around a little mixed up. But it may be different for people who adapt to it versus those who are growing up with it.
Ms. SONIA JAVITS (High School Student): I was like, I - my- uhmm.
SYDELL: When I entered 16-year-old Sonia Javits' room on a weekday evening, her back is to the door. She's happily hunched over her Macbook finishing an IM. She has several up on the screen.
Ms. JAVITS: Give or take depending on which friends of mine are online, I can talk to - I usually talk to up to, like, six people.
SYDELL: Javits does use email, but not very often. She likes IM. She leaves messages for people on Facebook. She even talks to people the old-fashioned way, on the phone. And she really likes to text message.
Ms. JAVITS: Texting is really quick. And if you just have a question or you don't really have that much time, you can just text them real fast or if you just don't want to talk on the phone, this is the quick and easy way to say hey, I guess. So...
(Soundbite of phone ringing)
SYDELL: Wait a minute. She's got a text message. Her mother Margaret Chickety has adjusted to the way Sonia and her brother communicate.
Ms. MARGARET CHICKETY (Sonia Javits' Mother): Well, I've actually started texting the kids because when I used to leave voicemail messages, they wouldn't get them. And it was either because they didn't check their voicemail or they didn't notice, and it's much more efficient because they actually look at it right away.
SYDELL: 16-year-old Sonia Javits says she can get overwhelmed.
Ms. JAVITS: I mean, there are thousands of ways online right now to do it. There are tons of things popping up. And it's really just a decision you have to make as an individual of how you want to communicate with your friends.
SYDELL: But, here's the thing. Professor Nass says that historically, whenever a new communication tool is invented, the old ones don't go away. It just adds more alternatives. So, we still use the mail, the telephone, FedEx, fax, maybe a little less, but we still use them. Nass says, don't expect the choices to get easier. Laura Sydell. NPR News, San Francisco.