Have you noticed that the way we communicate with one another has drastically changed, and not necessarily for the better? It seems that texts, emails, and “likes” or comments on Facebook posts have replaced face to face or phone conversations to a large extent. So many people are constantly looking at their phones or iPads instead of being present in the moment. Early this summer my sister and I observed a young child run into the street with almost disastrous results, while the mother was on a nearby bench typing what must have been a very important text. What could possibly be more important than your child’s safety? Several times recently, I’ve seen couples in a restaurant who did not interact with one another at all because they were each busy texting or scrolling through Facebook posts on their phones.

  • There is an entire generation of young people who have never known a world without digital communication. How can you become a skilled, empathetic conversationalist by typing W4U, NE1, L8R, TDTU, KHUF or H2CUS? Proper spelling and punctuation are usually ignored in favor of a quicker message, and considering that teens send an average of 3,339 texts a month, or more than 100 a day, that’s a lot of reinforcement of bad habits. I also have a feeling that similar surprising statistics could be applied to many adults as well.

Before going any further, I have to say that I think texting can be a great way of keeping track of family members, making plans or just saying a quick hello. But, trying to resolve differences or develop relationships through texting doesn’t work well at all. Some studies have determined that humans use more than just words to pick up on emotions. Words alone account for only 7 percent of the intended meaning of a message, body language conveys 58 percent of your meaning, and 35 percent of the message is sent through vocal tone, pitch and emphasis. Misinterpreted sarcasm or even typos in a text can make misunderstandings worse instead of better! There are some problems that are better worked out in person.

We seem to be connected to each other through one digital device or another all the time, but does it mean that there are fewer lonely people? Well, actually it’s just the opposite. As more time is spent online instead of in person, loneliness increases. Sending mountains of texts to multiple people does not equal good communication or happiness.

Have you ever seen someone run into a pole or even step out into the street in front of traffic because they were looking down at their phone instead of being present in the moment and looking where they were going? Good grief! Do we really need to pass laws about things that should be common sense?

When I read my summons for jury duty recently, I learned that digital devices of any kind are prohibited while prospective jurors sit in the courtroom all day waiting to be chosen or excused. I’m sure that’s not a very popular rule with some people who treat a phone as another appendage. Although I do admit that I probably spend more time online than I should, I am also quite content when I have to wait if I have a good book with me. The only problem is that I just might nod off once in a while because I’m used to reading in bed at night to help me fall asleep!

And then there’s Facebook. As with texting, it can be a good way to keep in touch with family members and friends. I look forward to our Michael’s occasional pictures, notes and videos on our private family Facebook page as he serves in the Air Force across the country in Washington. Instead of writing letters and waiting for a reply like my mom and dad had to do during World War II, we now have almost instant communication available with our serviceman, and I love it!

Spending too much time on Facebook has its drawbacks, though. There have been several studies done on this topic, and the findings were quite interesting. Research in 2010 at Carnegie Melon University in Pittsburgh concluded that it depends on how Facebook is used. Interacting with friends actively on Facebook by posting messages, pictures, tagging photos or “liking” things usually resulted in feelings of well-being and sociability. But passively looking at everybody else’s posts without any interaction tended to increase depression and loneliness. Passive users see all the happy posts of the supposedly beautiful, ideal family and friends’ vacations, meals, pets and activities, and all the fun they seem to be having, and tend to feel that their own life isn’t very exciting at all.

A 2013 study called “All the Lonely Facebook Friends” done at the University of Michigan concluded that heavy Facebook use can undermine well-being and increase loneliness. The more time people spent on Facebook, the less happy they felt, over time. Having hundreds of “friends” on Facebook still left a lot of people lonely. Real conversations can get rid of loneliness better than late night sessions on Facebook.

Online dating and cyberbullying are other areas of internet usage that present their own set of problems. People can hide behind their computer screens and pretend to be something they’re not, and often don’t hesitate to say things they might never say in person. Online dating through chats might have its allure, but we’ve seen that the written word alone can only convey 7% of the intended meaning of a message, and really getting to know someone that way is very difficult and often dangerous.

And don’t we all know Facebook users who are always posting selfies and waiting to see how many “likes” they can get? Seeing so many “likes” taps the brain’s pleasure and reward center and seems to give validation to the person receiving all the likes. The only problem is that Facebook isn’t real life, and spending time there instead of putting forth the effort to interact face to face only leads to more isolation.

I guess it’s the same as with so many other things that are better when used in moderation. Texting and Facebook can be useful and are probably here to stay, but it’s up to us not to let them rule our lives.

  • In case you’re wondering:

W4U = Waiting for you.

NE1 = anyone

L8R = later

TDTU = totally devoted to you.

KHUF = Know how you feel.

H2CUS = Hope to see you soon.

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