Technology Disrupts Conversation

After reading this week’s lecture about conversation, I couldn’t help but reflect on the topic.  I’m fascinated with the way people interact, in every facet.  Meeting for the first time, the progression of a relationship, face-to-face interaction, body language and – you guessed it – bonding via technology.  This is why I’m such a fan of Catfish: as a viewer, I try to decipher why it’s easier to trust via the internet.  I’m determined to find the answers.

But conversation comes with a terrible downfall.  I’ve mentioned in previous posts that people are constantly on their phones in all settings, whether social or isolated.  Instead of bringing us closer, it causes an “alone togetherness.”  We’re together, but distracted.

If you’re on a date with someone incessantly using his/her phone, they’re uninterested.  If you’re a student, texting could be the difference between an A and a C.  As a waitress, I see parents eating with their children, in silence.  Mom and dad are texting, tweeting or Facebook-ing while little Johnny eats alone.  It’s sad.  There’s no other way to describe it.

Last year, Sherry Turkle led a discussion, “Connected, but alone?” about the role of phones in our lives.

Referring to the “Goldilocks Effect,” Turkle says that “people like to keep themselves at a distance that they can control.”  This is because real conversations imply pressure.  Eye contact.  Body language.  Immediate response.  Real emotion. Vulnerability.  As Turkle describes it, we can’t edit, rewrite or delete during real conversation, but with texting, we can.

Turkle goes on to say that cell phones provide an “illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.”  We aren’t required to take stroll with Lindsey, but we’ll text her at 11 p.m.  Even worse, we’re so suffocated by our phones that we don’t enjoy “real” alone time, which makes us feel more alone.

I agree with Turkle, as I fell victim to these situations.  I’ve tried to spend some “me time” reading, only to simultaneously text eight people.  Just today, I went to the gym and texted while reading, watching TV, listening to my iPod, using an exercise machine and later talking on the phone.  This was supposed to be alone time – it wasn’t.

I’ve experienced the cell phone’s lack of compassion.  I can text my old college roommates, telling them I miss them, but it’s nothing like being together, laughing and making memories.  Texting can only go so far.

And yet, we continue to use texting as a wall.  We won’t rid of the habit, but we complain when our date texts during meals or our friend doesn’t answer quickly.  It doesn’t make any sense, but it’s the fate of our generation, or so it seems.  As a nation, we’re distracted from the one tool that’s used to keep us together.

It’s a paradox, really.

  1. I remember writing about this very same thing years ago when I lived in Japan. The cellphones there are the lifeblood of the culture. And the technology there was astounding. I could watch local TV on my phone while commuting to work.

    Surprisingly though, was what my Japanese students used to tell me, “I just has an entire argument with my husband via text messages.” That’s when it dawned on me, that cellphones were really not bringing us any closer, but rather creating a huge divide. I also noticed that when I texted people, I took a moment to decide what I was going to say and edited my text that way.

    On another note, cellphones in the bedroom are such an annoyance. My wife often complains about not being able to sleep enough and I have mentioned to her more than once, the reason being is because she sleeps with her cellphone next to her and every text makes the screen light up and vibrate. As addicted as she is, she gets up to check what or who it is disrupting her sleep.

    I also felt sad when I read about little Johnny. Reason being is because I am guilty of the same thing, but for me it’s my macbook and my children tugging on my leg, “I’m sorry papasito, I can’t right now. Papa has homework.” However, I do try to get as much as possible done and get off the computer and spend time with them. I also make it a point to eat together at the table and not have any devices at the table.

    Great work escapist!

    And sadly, I do believe it will get worse before it gets better.

    • Thanks again for the feedback!

      As much as cell phones help us communicate, they’re tearing us apart, and I’m glad you noticed this as well. In the scenario with your students in Japan: what if cell phones never existed? What if your student was fighting with their husband in the morning, spent their day and classes, and returned in the evening? They’d probably be more calm, having thought rationally about the argument. With cell phones, we don’t get a break. Arguments are intensified because people become brave when confrontations are not face-to-face, and the ambiguity that correlates with text messages can keep the argument going for days. It’s unfortunate.

      Sometimes I wish we could go back to how things used to be, even before I was born. Without so much technology to interrupt our daily lives. But it appears those days are long gone, unfortunately 😦

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