Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Communication Age: The Effects of Technology on Social Interaction: Final Copy

A report for my English Comp class.

The Communication Age: The Effects of Technology on Social Interaction

As the years have gone by technology has blossomed from phones the size of small bricks to tablets almost as thin as paper.  Communication has become available worldwide in the age of the internet, through Facebook, e-mail, and many other forms of social media.  But is this the age of communication or of disconnection?  

A study done in 2012 shows that on a daily basis 63% of teenagers exchanged text messages; 39% of teens made phone calls but only 35% engaged in face-to-face social activities outside of school.  Research suggests that 39% of Americans spend a larger amount of time socializing online than they do face-to-face.  75% of teens are members of at least one social networking site, but what about clubs and organizations where there is face-to-face interaction?  The number of internet users around the world has risen from 16 million in 1995 to 2280 million as of March, 2012.  If the number of people communicating online is rising then why does the number of people communicating face-to-face have to start dwindling? 

The amount of technology that we are consuming as a society could be deterring us from real face-to-face interaction.  The ease of sending a text or status update might be enough to keep us from meeting up with people and having actual conversations.  The effects of a lack of interpersonal interactions could potentially hinder our skills of communication.  Seeing and reacting to other people’s faces and emotions on a regular basis strengthens our abilities to read emotions and communicate effectively.  A study at the University of Michigan shows that college students are 40% less empathetic today than 20 years ago.   Becoming less empathetic means that we can’t relate to people as efficiently as before.  We aren’t able to understand the people we’re communicating with if we’ve lost our empathy.  The result would be that we would become socially inept because we won’t be able to understand where a person is coming from which affects the message they are trying to get across.  

When using technology to communicate there are always aspects of communication that will be hindered.  When we communicate via a phone call, text message, e-mail, etc. we cannot make eye contact with those we are communicating with.  Eye contact is one of the many cues we use to determine proper social behaviors.  We also utilize it to reflect emotions.  Along with eye contact there is the inflection of one’s voice.  When texting or updating a status it is difficult to determine intention.  That is mainly due to the lack of inflection.  If we communicate mainly through technological medias then our abilities in recognizing social cues and other people’s emotions will dwindle.  

Employers have also realized that the need for good communicators is important.  Employers have recently been complaining about a lack of interpersonal skills in their employees.  Communication skills has been pushed to the top of the list of qualities required of employees.  When you have the ability to conduct yourself properly in social settings and can empathize with others you can become a great communicator and a more effective employee.

Technology is right in the palm of our hands, literally.  77% of teens in America have cell phones.  23% of those teens have smart phones which enables them to access the internet and social media like Facebook and Twitter.  People, especially young teens, are also starting to use technology as an escape from what’s around them.  They could be surrounded by people to communicate with but instead of engaging they are caught up in their phone focused on something or someone who is not even there.  While the strides in being able to stay in touch with people no matter the distance is remarkable, the constant communication over the phone or computer causes the physical act of meeting up with people seem unnecessary.  If you’ve already caught up with them through a text then what is the need for meeting face-to face?  This is causing a decline in the quality of relationships.  Melissa Nilles, the Arts & Entertainment Editor for The Bottom Line said it like this, “While technology has allowed us some means of social connection that would have never been possible before, and has allowed us to maintain long-distance friendships that would have otherwise probably fallen by the wayside, the fact remains that it is causing ourselves to spread ourselves too thin, as well as slowly ruining the quality of social interaction that we all need as human beings.”  

Our use of technology to communicate doesn’t have to be the path to social isolation.  If we can balance our communication between face-to-face and over the phone or computer to a healthy level then we can begin to reverse the anti-social behaviors that lack of interpersonal interaction can cause.  

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