Mmhmm, uh huh and yeah are just some of the unenthusiastic responses I receive from my friend, who is scrolling through her Instagram feed. She isn’t paying any attention to me and probably doesn’t even know what I’m saying anymore, so I let my words gradually fade out. I’m left feeling offended.
This isn’t a new feeling for me. Posing for Snapchat selfies and ignoring social etiquette seems to be the new norm. Technology has lessened people’s attention span and they have become dependent on it. This dependency makes people less outgoing and interactive with each other.
We focus more on superficial connections online instead of strengthening our real-life relationships. People are obsessed with building a desired persona through pictures they post, locations they share and how many followers they have. I’m not going to lie – I’ve totally been jealous of that person who somehow seems to travel to a new place every weekend, and it’s difficult not to want to one-up them.
In spite of everything everything we may see online, technology isn’t an accurate way to get to know someone or gauge what they’re thinking because their voice and gestures aren’t factors. Communicating through emails or text messages can give a false sense of interest in the conversation, and there is little chance of knowing whether it is sincere without that face-to-face interaction.
In face-to-face communication, a person’s emotion, facial expressions, pitch and tone of their voice make the conversation more personal. Also, having conversations in person makes it possible to say everything at once instead of sending multiple messages in a row and waiting minutes, sometimes hours, for a response. When talking face-to-face, there is an obvious start and end to the conversation, unlike communicating through technology, where the conversation direction can become confusing or unknown.
I will admit that I find it difficult to pull away from my phone when I’m with other people, and I often find myself browsing through the latest album uploaded to Facebook when the conversation becomes dull. Whenever I go out to dinner or a public place, I rarely see people communicating the “old-fashioned” way, without any technological distractions. If something doesn’t grab someone’s interest within the first few seconds, they get bored and move on to their phones.
I know people who physically cannot spend minutes away from their phone without starting to tap their fingers or mess with a nearby object, which shows their addiction to it. Others use their phones as a sort of “security blanket” to protect them from having face-to-face conversations. And we all have that friend who secretly gets excited when plans get cancelled because they would rather be watching Netflix on a Friday night than go out in public and interact with other humans.
My parents always tease me, saying technology controls me. However, the technology obsession is even stronger with the younger generation. Every time I babysit, all the kids want to do is watch TV or play on their iPad mini, which is full of games. Most of their parents also only contact me using technology, which is why I was surprised when a woman came up to me at my neighborhood block party to talk about a babysitting job.
The woman invited me over to her house to ask me questions before hiring me to babysit her children and I immediately wanted to decline in fear of having to think of perfect responses on the spot. During the conversation at her house, I could feel my face getting hot and my heart racing, but I somehow survived the experience (and got the job). I found it beneficial to see the woman’s facial expressions and body language, a good indicator of what she was really feeling and thinking.
These face-to-face conversations also serve as preparation for the future, such as interviews for schools or for jobs. Eye contact, a diverse vocabulary and the ability to clearly present your thoughts are not skills that can be practiced through technology.
There’s no shame in sitting on the couch and eating spoonfuls of ice cream while binge watching the latest season of New Girl, but people should realize that Netflix isn’t going anywhere. I’m not trying to bash technology or deny the convenience of it, I’m just saying it will still be waiting for you when you get home, so go have some real face-to-face conversations and experience life outside the screen.