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Communication Crisis in a Social Media Age

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Is conversation a dying art form? Use of smartphone technologies to communicate has become exceedingly prominent in society to the point of actual concern. There are numerous social media outlets that allow for such communication. According to Pew Research Center, a nonbiased research organization that provides information on emerging trends, “in 2005, just 5% of American adults used at least one of these platforms. By 2011 that share had risen to half of all Americans, and today 69% of the public uses some type of social media.” There is no denying that we are living in a social media age and are completely consumed by it. In fact, we are no longer communicating with each other the way we use to. Smartphones are doing the work in a much faster and convenient way. Although smartphone technologies and social media are extraordinary utilities that have expanded the world for us, it is important to take a moment and reflect on the full picture. The younger generations are spending excessive amounts of time on their technologies and are using it as the main source of communication which therefore leads to losing essential communication skills that are needed to succeed out in the real world, in the workplace and personal relationships. Although some would argue that completely banning social media would be the best and most effective solution, it is not realistic considering how intertwined social media is in virtually all aspects of society and such a ban would inflict on individual freedom and right to use of this utility. In order to gain back communication skills which are crucial in the workplace and personal life, individual action needs to be taken to ensure better use of this type of technology.

Communication through social medias is replacing face-to-face interactions, resulting in poor communication skills, particularly among the younger generations. According to MIT Technology Review, “the average American spends 24 hours a week online.” This number has been steadily rising and continues to do so. People are spending more and more time on their devices and are therefore cutting themselves off from necessary human interactions. As a result, younger generations are having a more difficult time with face-to-face interactions and are beginning to avoid such instances. When we could start a conversation with a co-worker or a stranger that could potentially change our lives with new opportunities and world views, we choose to instead fiddle with our phones. According to New York Post, “Americans check their phone on average once every 12 minutes – burying their heads in their phones 80 times a day, according to new research.” This is largely because the youth of today no longer have confidence in their social skills and don’t know how to interact with people face-to-face due to always opting to communicate through smartphones. In fact, millenials have been deemed the socially awkward generation. According to Digital Trends, a news website that covers news about technologies, “In this Bank of America survey, 29 percent of Americans chose text as their preferred method of conversing with others, compared to 40 percent of millennials. While 38 percent of Americans of all ages chose in person conversations as their top choice, compared to 33 percent of millennials.” Clearly, texting is becoming the more popular method of communicating. This is a problem because strong communication skills are required for success in the workplace and personal relationships. This includes the ability to interpret body language, presenting oneself in a confident and positive manner, dealing with human emotion, and being able to guide the conversation by observing the second party. Unfortunately, technology does not teach how to interact face-to-face when body language and emotions become a part of the picture.

Communication through smartphone technology is obstructing development of interpersonal skills which are required for success in the workplace. Strong communication skills are an absolute requirement in the workplace. According to an article by Christina Patterson, author and freelance columnist, “More than 200 employers were interviewed, and they nearly all said that social intelligence was now more important in new recruits than IQ or exam results. They said they were wasting an awful lot of time in interviewing people who seemed to have no social skills at all.” This is caused by excessive use of smartphone technology to communicate and lack of face-to-face interaction. If social medias are making people lose social skills that are needed to succeed in the workplace, it is seriously time to re-consider the way this technology is being used.

Donovan McFarlane, Professor of Business Administration and Business Research Methods at Frederick Taylor University, argues that we have learned to value efficiency over effectiveness. Meaning that the speed and convenience with which technology allows us to communicate has become more important than how valuable and clear the conversation is. He claims that technology has created an “impatience in communication.” While it is great to be able to communicate with the second party so quickly and conveniently, it is detrimental to resort to this time after time or when it comes to more meaningful conversations because misunderstands are very likely to occur. Also, over time, interpersonal skills decline if not put to practice. This results in not knowing how to effectively take criticism at work, resolve conflicts with co-workers, and not being able to handle stressful social situations in person. It might be much easier to handle a work conflict over text message but it is crucial to know how to deal with a situation of the sort in person because it’s not yet possible to hide behind our phones forever. Unfortunately, according to news.com.au, an Australian news website specializing in breaking national as well as international news, “A survey of American millennials by One Poll found 65 per cent don’t feel comfortable engaging with someone face-to-face, and 80 per cent prefer conversing digitally.” This is bound to create problems in the workplace and this is the reason why employers are criticizing lack of proper communication skills among the younger generations.

Furthermore, smartphone technology is getting in the way of forming intimate relationships, which are needed to be socially healthy. Communication through technology can actually end up making us feel lonely. This is because the barrier of technology in a way dehumanizes the connection since body language and emotion cannot be exchanged. Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together and Reclaiming Conversation, psychologist, professor at MIT, and researcher, has spent about 30 years studying how technology is affecting social skills and relationships. In her book, Alone Together, she claims that “Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other” (Turkle Sherry, Alone Together, pp. 13). She explains that connections online are much more superficial due to there being a barrier of a technology between two parties, allowing for misinterpretations and taking on of different personalities. Therefore, connections online do not satisfy the social need of intimacy and should not substitute face-to-face interactions. In fact, according to Pacific Standard, an American magazine that focuses on social and environmental issues, “Newly published research suggests that the mere presence of a cell phone or smartphone can lessen the quality of an in-person conversation, lowering the amount of empathy that is exchanged between friends.” This is because cell phones cause us to be distracted and think about what is going on online. A research team led by Shalini Misra of Virginia Tech University claims that, “In their presence, people have the constant urge to seek out information, check for communications, and direct their thoughts to other worlds” (as cited in Jacobs, 2014). Even when people are not actively checking their smartphones but have them somewhere near, the conversation suffers and less empathy is present, preventing an intimate connection. This is a concerning problem because it is a known fact in psychology that humans need intimate relationships to be socially healthy.

Some would suggest that the banning of such social medias would be the most effective solution, as extreme as that may sound. In a magazine article, Natasha Devon, writer, social critic, and former schools’ mental health lead, argues that social media should be entirely banned for teenagers. Having worked with teenagers for a very long time, she believes social medias are causing more harm than good. She also states that from her long experience working with teenage youth, she has gathered that, “the average age for a young person to join Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter or Instagram is in Year 8 (12 years).” It is certainly valid to have concern over children starting to use social medias so early on because at such a young age social media can certainly be dangerous and prevent proper social development. However, a complete ban is not a realistic solution at all considering how influential social medias are in the society. According to ProCon.org, a non-profit, nonpartisan, online, research source, “93% of adults on Facebook use it to connect with family members, 91% use it to connect with current friends, and 87% use it to connect with friends from the past [274] 72% of all teens connect with friends via social media.” It is not practical to place a ban when most of the population relies on social media to such a large extent. Such a ban would be perceived as an attack on teenagers’ right to use of this utility.

Yet another possible solution would be to enforce a ban on social medias at the workplace and schools. The goal being to get people off their phones and focus on the work at hand without extra distractions. Pew Research Center conducted a study to see how American workers use social media in the workplace. Firstly, the majority of American workers do use social media in the workplace and for a range of different reasons. According to the study findings, most workers use social media at work to take a break with the study result of “34% ever use social media while at work to take a mental break from their job.” However, workers also use social media to network, find information, and get closer to their co-workers with study results of “24% to make or support professional connections” and “20% to get information that helps them solve problems at work.” This clearly indicates that social media is also being used in many positive ways. As a result, there shouldn’t be a ban of smartphones in the workplace but rather restrictions if the employer oversees that the employees are using social medias for reasons that are not of benefit. Similarly, students in schools can benefit from using social media. According to ProCon.org, “59% of students with access to the Internet report that they use social media to discuss educational topics and 50% use the sites to talk about school assignments.” Unless the students are using their smartphones for reasons other than school related, there is no need for a ban, as social medias can contribute to learning due to providing access to many different opinions and discussions online.

With all this in mind, the best solution that would yield the most optimal results is individual action. At the end of the day, it is up to the people to decide how they are going to use social medias, whether in beneficial or detrimental ways. The main source of communication should not be through technology. Why should the younger generations bother to start meeting in person more often and spend all this extra time when a text message or even call at their convenience could get the message across to the second party? Because face-to-face communication has many more advantages and having great social skills can help one get ahead in many areas of life. When people communicate in person, they are able to express themselves more fully and understand each other better with the use of body language, which can be used to guide the conversation and get the most out of it. This really comes in handy during job interviews, business meetings, or resolving a conflict. By making a conscious effort to discuss more important work-related ideas in person rather than over a device, one is likely to hugely benefit in their career and build stronger relationships with co-workers that would surely pay off. In fact, according to research done by David Deming, professor of education and economics at Harvard and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, “workers who combine social and technical skills fare best in the modern economy, as measured by a 7.2 percentage point increase in available jobs and a 26 percent wage increase between 1980 and 2012.” Therefore, it is highly important to develop these strong communication skills in order to win over employers or clients and be successful in the current way the modern economy is set up.

Another benefit of putting smartphones phones down more often is that more face-to-face communication would allow people to form deeper and more meaningful relationships. This has been proven by research already mentioned, that the conversation becomes more intimate, empathetic, and genuine when people are actually with each other and directing their full attention to each other. It is actually best to completely leave all devices at home since according to research even the presence of a smartphone deteriorates the quality of a conversation. This shouldn’t be a difficult task to carry out from time to time and would reap many benefits in terms of how much relationships improve.

By the same token, there shouldn’t be any smartphones at the dinner table or lunch dates at all. According to ProCon.org, “32% reported using social media or texting during meals (47% of 18-34 year olds) [99] instead of talking with family and friends. 10% of people younger than 25 years old respond to social media and text messages during sex.” Use of smartphone technology while in the company of others puts up a wall between everyone and there is too much distraction for anyone to really pay attention to each other. It defeats the entire purpose. If people left their phones at home more often to be more present in their interactions with actual people in front of them, relationships would greatly benefit. People should not expect to form close relationships if they are constantly distracted by their smartphones. This does not allow for focusing one’s full attention on the other person so that a bond can form. Instead, the connection becomes shallow. No wonder the youth feel lonely amongst all the thousands of Facebook friends and Instagram followers. Social media has become so consuming that it has left hardly any time for the real friends in the real world.

On a similar note, instead of using technology excessively and for no other reason than habit or boredom, the youth should be using it as more of the utility that it is meant to be. Smartphone technology and social networks are an incredible invention which allow for making a great impact by using individual voice and connections. This is great for activism, but people should make this be real activism because hashtagging #activism doesn’t really count. This means using social media to get up and do something about it in the real world. Gordhamer Soren, founder and host of Wisdom 2.0, which is a conference designed to tackle the major challenges of living with technology, explains that, “There are people who use social media (like Beth Kanter of Beth’s Blog or the folks at CharityWater) with such purpose and heart, it becomes a tool to break down barriers and create a better world” (Gordhamer Soren). Therefore, the solution isn’t to completely give up social media. Social media and technology are here to stay. However, the youth of today need take a step back and use this technology “mindfully.” Instead of wasting time on social media, it should be used only when it is necessary and without reducing the amount of person-to-person interactions. Social medias can be a very powerful tool when used in moderation. After all, social medias provide the possibility of connecting with people from all over the world. However, it is important to watch how much time is being spent on social media so that communication with the real people, which is much more important, does not suffer as a result.

Technology and social media have had a huge transformative impact on society. As a result of these utilities, which have grown tremendously and continue to grow, there are numerous more possibilities. We have the ability to interact with people from all over the world, find any imagine-able information out there, and stay connected. However, there have also been severe negative consequences due to how consumed and reliant we have become on technology. It has changed the way we communicate by replacing face-to-face interaction with “communication” behind a screen. As a result, our social intelligence is suffering and we don’t have the same intimate relationships. It is becoming difficult for the younger generations to succeed in the workforce and hold a meaningful, intelligent conversation with peers. This cannot be overlooked as communication is one of the most important tools humans have, and more importantly, it is a skill which requires practice. The best solution is to take individual action towards a better use of technology in order to reclaim conversation.

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