Published: Granite Bay Gazette Vol. 19, Issue 2. Friday, Oct. 23, 2015.
Reason for publication: I wanted to examine technology’s effect on modern communication and did so by interviewing an expert whom I found through a New York Times article.
Because of the desire to increase efficiency and productivity, modern-day societies have become dependent upon technology and, in doing so, may have sacrificed basic human connections.
Renowned psychology professors Howard Gardner and Katie Davis have coined today’s youth the “app generation” – a name representing the generation’s apparent obsession with digital media. Granite Bay High School’s newest assistant principal, Jessup McGregor, said he sees the current high school-age generation as an “apt generation” – speaking on observed tendencies to grab information quickly, but having difficulty pausing, and retaining information without utilizing the ease of technology.
According to research published by the Pew Research Center, 89 percent of cellphone users report using their phones during a recent social interaction. Cellphones “are always present and rarely turned off,” according to the Center, which claims that mobile technology is directly responsible for new social and communicational difficulties.
“I walked up to a group of kids (at GBHS) … and there were three girls sitting there and they were (all) on their phones,” McGregor said. “Totally zoned into their phones. It’s almost sad to see that in the time they’re spending together, they’re really not together at all. They’re each doing their own thing … It makes me sad to think about how much less human connection people have.”
Senior Ethan Guttman said it annoys him when people can’t make it through social events such as concerts without taking a video and posting it on their Snapchat story. If you pay to go to a concert, you should enjoy it without using your phone, Guttman said.
These instances of phone reliance during social events bring to light a conversation about the American population, specifically younger generations, and the influence technology has had on their abilities to communicate with each other.
Phones and mobile devices can be seen as something of a double-edged sword. Technology may be making online communication easier, but making face-to-face socializing more difficult.
“You (can be) texting somebody and you see them in person and you don’t say anything – that happens a lot to me,” junior Katie Carson said. “Sometimes it’s easier to talk over text becaue you can think about it and word it right. In real life, you’re just in the moment, and (have to deal with) whatever comes out of your mouth.”
Mobile devices enable students to decide their level of interaction with the outside world. There is a certain comfort in the usage of a phone when alone, like listening to music while walking to class.
“Think about people who walk around with their earbuds in – it’s like they don’t want to be alone, but they don’t want to engage,” intervention counselor Melanie Anvari said. “You put that on because you want to close off. Same with being on their phone (when alone) – they don’t want to be alone, but they don’t want to necessarily talk to other people.”
However, senior Cameron Erickson said he listens to music when he walks to class on occasion because there’s too much music and too little time in the day to get through it all. On a few of these occasions, he’s had incidents where he accidentally ignores someone or doesn’t notice a hello because he’s “virtually deaf.” Still, he said Anvari’s statement regarding those who listen to music on the way to class is too far-reaching.
More than the number of those who listen to music on the way to class, is the number of those who use their phones when alone before or after class, before or after school or during lunch or passing period on campus.
“There are folks who will get involved in their phones, even just scrolling through Facebook, just so that they have something to do so they don’t appear to be not talking to somebody,” McGregor said. “That’s detrimental to a person’s emotional health. It’s okay to be alone. It’s okay to not be talking to somebody.”
Furthermore, the presence of phones in classrooms is disputed and debated, and a teacher’s willingness to allow usage differs from class to class. Whether a teacher allows for it or not may still not necessarily prevent students from using them in class – much to the chagrin of many teachers.
“What I care about is when the students are so used to just grabbing (their phone) and using it at any time, that they don’t even realize it’s an inappropriate time,” said Advanced Placement Government teacher Jarrod Westberg, who has had problems with students in his class using phones at inappropriate times. “This last two (or) three years, that’s what I’ve seen and that scares me … If you’re at home, and you’re eating dinner and everyone’s on their phones – that’s what you think is normal. But socially that is not the norm.”
Mass production and prevalence of technology has certainly influenced how and when it is being used. However, the instantaneous speed may also have an affect on the patience of its users.
“We all lose focus very easily, naturally,” Anvari said. “(But) the phone has made us really impatient. I’ve noticed that people expect things to happen as quickly as it does on their phone.”
A new phenomenon describes the instance of using one’s phone to snub someone else – appropriately dubbed “phubbing.” Researchers at Baylor University have found that increased levels of unhappiness occur as an effect of phubbing.
Carson said she can think of multiple circumstances, such as hanging out with friends or meeting someone, where the person chooses to check their phone, distressing her. The action appears as one choosing a phone over a verbal conversation, Carson said.
Technology could be the culprit of an even bigger emotional revolution, which has caused a 40 percent decrease in empathy amongst college students.
Psychologist Sara Konrath collaborated with a University of Michigan research team to combine the findings of over 70 studies from 1979 to 2009 to conclude the shocking decrease in empathy. In an interview which took place via email, Konrath proposed technology’s plausible influence.
“I think that there are logical reasons why it is possible that new technology can make it harder to read emotional cues,” Konrath said. “Emotional cues cannot be easily and accurately transmitted by text.”
Any loss of empathy is significant, as the ability to empathize is a basic trait of social creatures. Additionally, technology may be influencing other personality characteristics.
“When people have difficulty empathizing, this affects all aspects of our relationships,” Konrath said. “Not only would this affect our closest relationships with our families and romantic partners, but it would also affect how we treat strangers and people who are different from us. Being socially connected is critical for humans’ well-being and health, so if people become more disconnected this could affect their own mental and physical health.”
Speculation about whether or not the emoji (a digital emoticon) is an adequate replacement has been met with differing opinions.
Online communication doesn’t involve emotion, so emojis aren’t replacing anything, according to Guttman. He pointed out that advancements in technology make face-to-face exchanges possible from anywhere in the world, thanks to programs like Skype and FaceTime.
Carson said a possible reason for the popularity of emojis originates from the detached nature of texting, which can often make it difficult for the receiver to detect tone. Emojis may add emotion into the text. However, she also said there are unwritten rules which define the situations where emojis are appropriate.
“When someone puts a period at the end of their text, I think they’re mad at me,” Carson said. “(Which is why) I use smiley faces – I think that helps (with the tone of the text). If I was sad, I wouldn’t want a sad emoji face, because I would feel like you didn’t actually care.”
If emojis can be seen as substitutes for emotions, is it feasible to conclude that technology fosters superficial relationships – or relationships that would not be so, if not for the help of social media? Some agree.
“(Through your phone), you increase your chances to meet people on a superficial level,” McGregor said. “If you’re a Facebook friend, we all know that can mean nothing or it can mean something, but I think it certainly decrease your chance to make a deep friendship with somebody.”
Guttman and Carson both agree that technology promotes artificial relationships. Anvari also agreed, saying she thinks social media “creates this false sense of social networks.”
Technology has affected the way human beings communicate. If allowed, it can influence our emotional connections and relationships with each other, but the answer to ensuring one stays in control of one’s own emotions could be finding a balance.
“I’m hoping that when students use the technology, they see what to use for work and what to use for socializing,” Anvari said. “The biggest thing that students struggle with is balance. It’s (drawing the line between) how to use technology with your friends, and how to use technology to help you succeed in life.”