Remember the days before we all had smartphones? You know, back when people used to sit down and talk to each other? Just people having a real conversation. Relationships were built on that type of communication only 20 years ago. The way we interact has changed dramatically in the last decade, and in my opinion it’s not necessarily for the better.
You would only have to be about 25 years old to remember a time before cell phones were mainstream. Sure your dad may have had a mobile phone the size of a suitcase that used enough power to send a space shuttle into orbit to receive a call. Mine did. When I was 12 my dad got a phone that rivaled a standard brick in both size and weight. It took him the better part of five minutes to program one number in and then equally as long to pull it up when needed.
But of course I’m talking about cell phones as we know them today: small, pocketable, and far more worthy of your attention than a room full of friends.
If you grew up in the pre-smartphone era, you’re familiar with the idea of face-to-face interaction. If you wanted to really communicate something to somebody, you would sit them down and talk to them about it. If you couldn’t do that you would write a letter, sent via messenger pigeon of course, and in a distant last place would be making a phone call.
Now kids at age seven are grappling with smartphone addiction using Twitter, Facebook and text messaging as primary forms of communication. Seems innocent enough at first glance, but here’s the problem: most communication is non-verbal.
According to A. Barbour, author of Louder Than Words: Nonverbal Communication, the total impact of a given message breaks down like this:
Seven per cent verbal (words)
38 per cent vocal (volume, pitch, rhythm, etc)
55 per cent body movements (mostly facial expressions)
So with kids growing up on Twitter, text, and Facebook as primary forms of communication, they are only getting across around seven percent of the information that would be conveyed in person. And that’s not accounting for the fact that words are not what they used to be. Thanks to cell phones, texting, and rap music, abbreviations like lol, brb, and ttyl are becoming the norm.
“Hey buddy, do you want to get some lunch? Let’s invite Tom too, that guy is hilarious!” now sounds more like: “Hey bra :–0? Txt Tom LMAO.”
Exaggerated? Perhaps, but I have to conclude that even if the seven per cent verbal communication is intelligent, articulate conversation, we are in some real trouble.
I’m concerned we’re raising a generation that lacks basic communication skills. I hope I’m proven wrong, but when our primary medium for communication can’t convey the majority of what we’re trying to say, how are we going to cope when put into situations where we have to deal with problems face-to-face and tweeting is not an option? #awkward.
I own a smartphone, and most of the time, if it’s working well (not giving me the black screen of death or throwing itself mercilessly at the pavement), I do enjoy the convenience. But do we really understand the impact that smartphones are likely to have on the next generation’s communication skills?
My daughter is two, and I don’t know what I’m going to do when she gets to an age where her friends are all tweeting, Facebooking and Gwarting each other (just invented that last one…patent pending) and she doesn’t want to be left out. I don’t want her to be a social outcast but I also can’t imagine her growing up with a smartphone addiction and without the basic communication skills I learned as a child.
As with most things, we as parents need to moderate how much time our kids spend glued to our glowing devices. I guess it’s up to big bad dad to take away the toys and teach my sweet little girl to talk face-to-face, like people used to.
Flickr photo (cc) by Marc_Smith