Last week, Sherry Turkle wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times about how social media and technology is adversely affecting our ability to properly communicate with each other, and the implications it can have on children’s social development. She found that children and young adolescents are no longer developing a sense of empathy. When we have conversations on our phones instead of face-to-face, we miss important facets of the conversation, such as body language. She found that many children are not registering emotional responses properly, and as a result they lack empathy. She also wrote about college students and referred to a “rule of three” in which at least three people in a group need to be paying attention to the person speaking before you can look at your phone. Her article got me thinking about how we actually communicate, and is social media really helping our conversations?
The purpose of social media is supposed to be making connections and improving our channels of communication, but instead it seems to be negatively affectively our communication skills rather than enhancing them. More and more I find that we continually rely on social media and technology to communicate, while traditional forms like talking are becoming obsolete. One of my roommates likes to call people to ask simple questions like “What are you getting for dinner?” The first time this happened, I remember being completely confused. I think I specifically asked her why she was calling me when she could have just texted me. For some reason, receiving a phone call felt weird to me. I was sure it had to be something really important for her to take the time to call me. We seem to be moving to a place where less words is what’s desirable, and communication is fine as long as it is convenient for us.
Social media and texting invites the idea of censoring our thoughts; we limit what we have to say almost to avoid the possibility of a real conversation. A tweet is only 140 characters, and if someone texts you something longer than a sentence it becomes an essay that we don’t want to read. We start writing a text to someone, and then we delete it because we’re not sure that’s exactly what we want to say. But, this doesn’t happen in real conversations. The beauty of a real conversation is where it can lead you; at the end of a great conversation you often find yourself miles from the place that you started at. When you eliminate this aspect of communication, you end up with a lot of smaller conversations that aren’t entirely meaningful.
Real conversations take time and effort that we’re not willing to give. When conversations are light we don’t need to give our full attention. Light conversation allows us to multi-task. We can’t just sit down and talk anymore; we bring our phones with us so we can check our email, and social media, all so we can have these light conversations with as many people as possible. We prioritize the person who just texted us, who is presumably far away, over the person sitting in the room with us. You can do everything on your phone now. Why ask someone else a question when you can ask social media? Social media and technology allows us to pick our level of engagement so that it’s convenient for us. Why read all the comments and opinions when you can just read the ones that agree with you? Real conversation doesn’t allow you to censor yourself or others. You start talking and see where you end up.