While many of us who love conversation enjoy casually bemoaning young people’s lack of social skills, many scholars have confirmed our whinging: 1) Texting and e-mailing are addictive, 2) people who often text and use social media are less likely to want to engage in actual face-to-face conversation and 3) this is not a good thing.
- ADDICTIVE: We’re constantly checking our emails or our cell phones for messages. A Psychology Today researcher speculates that texting and emailing can trigger a “dopamine loop”. Dopamine is a chemical that sparks our “wanting” system, which is stronger than our “pleasure” system. (We enjoy craving things more than being pleased by things.) Hence, we can’t stop responding to texts or emails: we get a dopamine rush that will make us want to write more, seeking yet another response. When we get that response, we write some more. . . and on and on it goes.1
- LACK OF FACE-TO-FACE CONVERSATION: MIT professor Sherry Turkle has spent decades studying the effect of technology on human behaviour. She concludes that we still communicate with each other through Facebook, Twitter, etc., but that all this “talk” doesn’t add up to nourishing conversation. We’re talking at each other and not with each other. Indeed, an article in Forbes notes that employers such as JP Morgan Chase have offered to eliminate voicemail for some of their employees, and many of them, especially the under-40s, are snapping up the offer. These people are so accustomed to communicating through text and email that the idea of speaking to someone on the telephone is a bit nerve-wracking.
- NOT A GOOD THING: All this “Look-at-me! “Like me!” interaction can be satisfying, but it isn’t necessarily good for the soul. “An emoticon or a little smiley face doesn’t really convey joy versus minor happiness—and I think that might lead to a lack of empathy,” notes a scholar.3 Indeed, I have been asked many times by my students to help them learn how to socialise and make small talk: “I don’t know how to read people, and I don’t know what to say to people,” has been a common refrain. Maybe this has always been the case? I’m not sure.
Now, who knows what all this online communication means for the future. Pundits have made dire predictions that have been totally erroneous; could be we’re shaking our heads over nothing. We’re facing a brave new world that, hopefully, will not become the kind of horrible, dehumanising universe as envisioned by either Aldous Huxley of Brave New World fame—or that of E. M. Forster, who predicted this sorry state of affairs as early as 1909. (Yes, 1909; I’ll write about that tomorrow.)
I am a communications coach in the Melbourne and Geelong area, and my company is called Eloquent English:
www.eloquentenglish.com. I offer workshops in public speaking,
self-presentation, active listening and pronunciation, among others.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Remember: “It’s your story. Get it right.”