I’ve had several different conversations with friends lately wondering about whether our ability to communicate is being eroded in the texting/e-mail/Facebook messaging/G-chat/Skype/direct messages/can on a string era.
We have more tools for communication than ever. Social media makes it possible to instantly know what our friends are up to and even see when they’re nearby. We share books and articles and TV shows and ideas faster than ever before.
But it’s also just as easy to let the absence of communication take the place of an actual conversation. Instead of having to let someone down easy over the phone, now we just don’t return their e-mail. Instead of having difficult conversations, we exchange some texts and leave it at that.
The idea that technology is eroding our communication skills isn’t new, and the introduction of the telephone and television were accompanied by similar hand-wringing. But what are we losing?
One of my friends believes that social media strengthens weak connections but weakens strong connections. My mom believes social media insulates people from having difficult conversations and everyone is getting worse at them. I believe I may just be getting old.
What do you think? Is social media eroding or strengthening our ability to communicate?
Art: Junge Frau am Telefon – Max Schüler
The assumption is that people were good at talking to each other before social media. Just like now, some were, some weren't. Watch a sit com from 50 years ago, all of them have a show about how people have lost the art of conversation.
I am in touch with family, old friends, work colleagues, total strangers and friends we only know online every day. I know the details of their lives, if I want to. And I share mine.
Maybe people don't talk like they used to but many connect through technology in ways a conversation that occurred as time and nearness allowed never could.
Jill of All Trades says
I so agree with your mother in that regard, and yes, we are all getting a bit older. I can totally see the "strengthens weak connections but weakens strong connections".
For me it is connecting to an old friend, tentatively and rekindling the friendship, and then the dissolution of a relationship of my sister and I over a message she sent, via FB. Our only communication now is WWF, very sad.
Another is that I have been actively writing to a pen pal for over 40 years, faithfully, until about 5 years ago when email came into the picture. We both have slacked to almost non-existent communication, except email or FB.
I think it is all evolving and changing and we are in the infancy of it all. I mean we have the ability to hide in plain sight here with monitoring the phone and messages.
paula shene says
I have found social media a blessing. My lifestyle is extremely hectic – I have a husband with dementia like symptoms due to a car accident; myself, dealing with cancer aftermath diseases, and my immediate, and extended family scattered all over the United States.
There is always one or two on line, and our family will quickly let each other know there is a need or a joy.
For myself, with small windows of time, writing, promoting, care giving, it is a boom.
Getting old? At 31? Or is it 32? Either way, sorry, but that made me smile. You know you're getting old when your body begins to get grumpy. What you are feeling are the pangs of perspective, imho.
I agree with so many posts here, I'd just credit them, if there weren't so many.
I think social media is fantastic. Instant communication worldwide will is changing the world, and people are connecting more than they ever did. It may not help people learn to be intimate, but that has more to do with the people themselves. Not everyone is comfortable with intimacy. But for those who are, the access is unprecedented.
I'd never go back to the world of ink and quill. There is no comparision to the amount of letter writing, both long and short, that e-mail facilitates.
There is nothing that exists in the world today that will benefit mankind more than the internet and the opportunities for people to connect. That's what I believe, anyway. 🙂
So, bravo Social Media!
Dangerous Don says
Only multi-taskers will succeed. As the social media exert their full Darwinian power, mono-taskers will gradually die out. Things like "focus" and "concentration" and even "day-dreaming" will be distant memories from generations past, understood only by historians.
I quite agree with both your friend and your mom. This is not to say that I think social media is inherently bad – Facebook connected me to a woman who is my best friend – it's just that it allows us such an easy way out.
When I taught high school, I once asked a student who was texting back and forth with a girl, "Why don't you just call her if you have so much to say?" (I really didn't get it.) His response? "Because conversations are so … awkward!" It was a very enlightening interaction for me. Now boys can just ask a girl on a date via text, and the girl can let him down without feeling as bad about it. This definitely doesn't force us to develop some real communication skills, I think.
Social media also insulates us from the feelings of others. People often say harsher things via email than they would ever say if they had to look you in the eye. I hate this about the internet.
And lastly, one of my big pet peeves is emoticons. Via text or email? Okay. But in a blog post or article? Really?? This allows us to be bad writers (If you can't tell I'm being sarcastic, maybe I need to clarify it in my writing, not with a smiley!), and it asks so much less of the reader. Can we not expect readers to have some critical thinking skills? Please? Can't they be expected to make an interpretation on their own? Emoticons just dumb things down for the reader, and ask so much less of the writer.
Charmaine Clancy says
There are people who love to communicate in person or traditionally by writing long letters. They will have something to grieve. I've personally always been one who hates phone calls and never writes and just all round isn't social. But, with online communication, I'm very social, so it benefits me.
E.B. Black says
I had less friends before the internet and would be completely alone now if it wasn't for the internet. It's not that all my friends are on the internet, it's that I found out about them that way. I live in a small town and have heard about clubs and groups because of the internet and met many people that way that I've been friends with in person. I disagree entirely. If it wasn't for the internet and text messaging and all of that, there would be some of us all alone, with no communication at all in our lives, struggling to get somewhere.
I went to church, frustrated for many years of my life that the only friends I could make were little old ladies when I'm still in my twenties. I'm very, very thankful to the internet for giving me so many opportunities to communicate with others, including fellow authors and beta readers and editors and agents.
I disagree entirely. Communication is at an all time high.
Nathan – I actually thought this very thing 12 years ago … I was a junior in high school and the "social network" of the day was AIM. I had been gone all weekend and came home to find out, via AIM, that a classmate had killed himself.
What happened next is this very phenomenon. The conversations that should have been happening in person, with real tears took place for weeks via AIM.
The same has been true with my last two relationships. Sure, we had difficult talks in person, but texting became the avenue for details.