What’s ruining our social skills?
I know what you’re thinking: This article is going to shame me into not using my smartphone so much.
Relax. I, too, have felt that same tinge of anxiety if my phone has been misplaced or out of my sight for any length of time.
Smartphones have opened up so many possibilities, allowing anyone to get any kind of any information at any time. But how has that affected human communication?
I’ve been on dates where the person I was with was more interested in checking his social media accounts on his phone than paying attention to me. I don’t want to compete with a smartphone. Nor do I think I should have to. But sometimes it seems that is exactly what we’re doing. We all compete with social media. It has changed the way we socialize with one another. It has established an entirely new way of communication.
I have observed couples, families, and groups of people in general, trying to interpret (at least in my head) how they are connecting. There are a few that seem to be genuinely conveying and sharing in a personal way. There’s eye contact, hand gestures, and that nice ebb and flow energy that a good conversation can bring. I don’t experience that as much as I used to, and I miss it.
Then there are the majority that I see. It’s not hard to find them. They are in stores, restaurants, bars, waiting rooms, traveling on buses and planes, and sitting in coffee shops. I’m sure you’ve seen the meme about the guy sitting in the coffee shop without a laptop or phone, and the joke is he was just sitting there looking like a psychopath.
People are sitting across from each other and walking beside one another staring off into space—or even more commonplace, staring blankly into their phones without uttering a single word to each other. There doesn’t seem to be any quality human interaction taking place.
And this practice isn’t limited to couples. I’ve seen entire families, co-workers, groups of friends, and friends of friends do this. I’ve attended happy hours with co-workers who were so busy on their phones that they never participated in a single conversation. It seems that we are more preoccupied with sharing a photo of our beautifully colored cocktail from our favorite watering hole on social media, than sharing that same experience with the person sitting right in front of us.
I think in all these scenarios, communication—or the disconnection of communication—is the culprit. We often allow others to communicate for us. I hate to admit it, but we do love things that make our lives easier. That’s why we have drive-through restaurants and banks, food-delivery services, PayPal, and the one-click-away, free-shipping, get-it-tomorrow sites that flood the internet. It becomes the easier route to take for many.
Why talk when we can click a thumbs up button that conveys the same message? It takes too much effort. It can feel inconvenient because of being real. Being physically present can create feelings of discomfort when we’ve become accustomed to (and even prefer) texting over calling and social network interaction instead of human, in-person interaction.
The value of direct communication seems to have been lost. For a lot of folks, what is considered effective communication has been replaced with “likes,” comments, and emojis on social media. We look at beautiful people on their Facebook pages or Instagram posts. We zoom in on their fun-filled family vacations and romantic date nights, or we smirk at witty, clever memes that seem to sum up our lives perfectly.
Before you know it, it’s already been said. Someone has already expressed how we are feeling. It’s a safe way to communicate. It’s not always easy to feel vulnerable or experience those authentic, genuine feelings that you would in person with someone. And although they’re convenient, “likes” lack intimacy.
We seem to care about people we hardly know, or we find out about our friends’ lives without ever talking to them. With just a few clicks, all this information is readily available to us. It seems that we have forgotten how to interact with one another outside of technology. And it’s addicting as hell. I recently heard on the news that smartphone-carrying pedestrians are getting injured, because they can’t look away from their screens long enough to arrive safely to their destinations.
We have become complacent as a society when it comes to expressing our feelings. It’s easy to just let others do it for us. We obsess over our social media pages, while we become more and more emotionally numb. There’s more to life than liking a girl’s photo on Instagram, because you think she looks hot. (And by the way, guys, that didn’t just naturally happen. She spent hours on her hair, makeup, outfit, and lighting to get Instagram-ready and make it appear that she gets out of bed looking like that.)
And the thing is, there’s nothing wrong with liking a hot girl’s photo. We are a visual society hooked on looking at and liking aesthetically pleasing things. But it’s not real. Or at least, the majority of it isn’t. It’s a highly filtered, greatly exaggerated, photoshopped fragment of someone’s else idea of perfection that we somehow think we need to compare our lives to.
What keeps us tied to social media is a strong need to belong. We are fooled, and we get the illusion of a relationship without the demands that go along with it.
Listen Facebook friends and Instagram followers: As passengers on planet Earth, we are carried around the sun at a fierce velocity of nearly 70,000 miles per hour. Not to mention that we are spinning at a rate of 1,000 miles per hour. Of course, because of velocity, we can’t feel this rush of force—but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Just like how there are a variety of experiences we could have that are already physically present in our lives. We just have to get in tune to feeling that rush of force and stop feeling numb.
So for those diners, bar patrons, bus and plane riders, and coffee drinkers out there who sit next to me and say nothing—please take notice. There is a place in our lives for smartphones, social media, and alternative ways of connecting to one another. But those shouldn’t be a replacement for that one-on-one experience with another human being.
Think about what you’re communicating while you sit there practicing non-communication, even though that communicates something all on its own. Make a deliberate decision to live in the present. Remove distractions. Make eye contact. Look up. Ask questions. Don’t let others express your feelings for you. Own your behavior and live it out loud.
I want those people I care about to get out of my smartphone and into my real life. And I will never, ever check my phone while on a date.
“Everything becomes a little different as soon as it is spoken out loud.” ~ Hermann Hesse
Author: Melinda Campbell-Weber
Image: Flickr/Jean-François Gornet
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina