Yesterday, as I was walking back from the train station after a long day at work, I ran into someone I knew on the way home. After we exchanged greetings and we proceeded to chat, it quickly became hard to hold a conversation as we both seemed lost in our own worlds. We had both not been expecting this chance meeting and were tired from work, but I later realized that there was more to that encounter than just lethargy from the end of the day.
I had spent most of the train ride on my phone surfing the internet and reading a book, which are both very solitary activities. The bulk of my job requires me to be on my laptop, so obviously I have become very accustomed over the years to communicating online. I even find myself making lunch plans through e-mail, even though the person I’m messaging is in the same side of the building. Ordinary face-to-face contact has become an alternate reality to sites such as Facebook and Twitter, where you can post your day-to-day thoughts and send messages instantly from person to person. You don’t even have to open your mouth or leave your chair anymore to be able to ask people questions or find out about their daily life. The addition of the internet onto cell phones has also become a gateway to instant gratification and can sometimes even spawn new friendships if you are too shy to speak to someone on a more personal level. However, if you really think about it, what is technology doing to the fundamental social skills that people have to learn and cultivate? If you can’t talk to someone in person and you resort to e-mailing or Facebook-ing them, is that really the start to a healthy relationship? While there are definitely some advantages to the technology that have made communication easier in the long run, there are still some drawbacks in the way people relate to each other with this changing technology.
Thinking back to even ten years ago, cell phones were less advanced and social networks were not the ultimate gathering place. E-mail was still important and frequently used, but you couldn’t access it as easily as you can with today’s rash of Smart-phones. The latter has actually become something of interest to me as of late, as I just recently invested in an iPhone. Being able to access your Facebook account or e-mail on the run can be a blessing and a curse, as having so much connectivity can be helpful, as well as distracting. While it might be great to be able to look up street directions or a song that you heard on the radio, sometimes the urge to check one’s phone for new messages can end up replacing human-to-human interaction. Despite the new distractions, I was recently discussing the merits of cell phones and computers with a friend at lunch today and we were both in awe of how we survived without them for so long. Mailing letters and stopping by at people’s houses unannounced seems foreign to us in this day and age, since the fast-paced world has made people accessible at an instant. Ways of communicating are constantly changing, yet this new evolution has left the younger generation less likely to engage in true face-to-face conversation. According to the New York Times, college students have even started using text messages as a way of resolving roommate conflicts, despite the fact that they could be discussing it right in their own room! Have text messages become the new voice, making us strangers of interpersonal connection?
It’s important to take yourself away from your technology once in a while, putting away your phone and simply sitting down for coffee with a friend without distractions. Basic communication skills like eye contact and a listening ear are vital in forming bonds with other people and something we should continue to cultivate, despite the changing times with new media replacing what was once commonplace interaction. When you “unplug” yourself from the web of technology, even if for a short amount of time, there is much to be learned from simply talking to others and keeping the human aspect of communication alive. Never forget the foundation of human interaction, which involves the bare bones of creating a relationship with the other person. It is very hard to find connections through simple text, as the words have to have some emotion that only the human voice, facial expressions, and general presence can provide. By breaking the barriers that technology has built around us, using our face-to-face times as serious communication can help bring us out of our awkward funk and back into a world where machines don’t dominate our social lives!