Technology is killing conversation faster than we think

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I am finding myself amused, fascinated, and concerned as I am being increasingly drawn into responding to people using text and email.

Amused, because I am of generation that would rather discuss and converse in person or by telephone (I am sure you remember them) and our mobiles still have the capacity to make calls.

Fascinated, because I am trying to understand what has led to this phenomenon of texting and emailing using a myriad of devices rather than calling, and the impact of this behaviour. Before we jump to the conclusion that it’s generational, which may go some way to providing an explanation, I think it was influenced initially some years ago by mobile service providers changing pricing plans that made data cheaper than phone calls.

Concerned, because I caught part of an interview and discussion on this very topic last weekend and part way through the discussion the interviewer read out a text message from a listener that simply read “it is rude to call someone, it invades their privacy”.

If this is the way we are moving with our communication there is no doubt it has an “upside” and correspondingly it must surely have a “downside”.
With the aid of Professor Sherry Turkle, researcher and author of Alone Together and Reclaiming Conversation, I was able to draw some interesting observations. In terms of the “upside” there are the obvious benefits to using devices, particularly those that offer instant messaging, email etc:
• It is fast and to the point especially the various forms of instant messaging
• It’s convenient; it’s at your fingertips
• It allows the message to be edited
• Assuming the person is there, response is immediate as is feedback
• Content is private and cannot be overheard
• Content can be shared with multiple people across different platforms at the same time at your discretion in the beginning, however once posted who knows
• Attachments can be sent with a message

So is there a down side?

Be it smart phone or tablet, they are now omnipresent, attached to us and around us, giving us the illusion of engagement, productivity, being busy, and achieving something. However invest some time and reflect on the following:

  •  The fact is, your smartphone and tablet are a distraction and thus not conducive in promoting conversation
  • Do you hear, or do you actively listen? Are you engaged, whether at work, at home or with your kids? If not, then conversation diminishes and so does context and understanding. The outcome is people are not learning how to socialise
  • What is really concerning is Sherry Turkle is of the view we are losing the ability to empathise, understand context and nuance, and all too often the emotion of the message being sent and received is missed. The outcome is people are losing touch with their feelings and with being able to express them
  • Capacity to focus diminishes at work and at home. We are distracted by any number of apps. At home it’s no better; if you have kids, the whole family can be distracted and isolated as each family member retreats to the security of their respective devices. The outcome is we are losing the art of conversation
  • The potential for miscommunication and misunderstanding increases as messaging does not encourage exploration of the situation, deeper questioning for understanding and confirmation of meaning, and the offering of a counterargument or point of view. The outcome is we are losing the ability to think critically
  • Even when people are together, they are apart. People carry on a conversation at one level while conducting one or more interactions with others through their devices because we are addicted to immediately responding with a level of urgency that might otherwise be reserved for dealing with an immediate threat. The outcome for many people is they have never been more alone

Get perspective – these technologies are tools designed to supplement our lives not control them.

Think carefully about your behaviour in relation to devices; find the on/off switch and use it regularly, put your phone to silent when people or tasks need your focus and attention, educate people that you will not offer an immediate response unless genuinely urgent, select periods of the day where you put your device out of sight.

Most of all think carefully about your behaviour and impact on the people around you, not just at work but at home. Conversation in person builds a human bond – have a meaningful conversation with someone today with your device out of sight.

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