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By Nicole Thompson

There are millions of people, adults and children alike, who spend more hours texting, tweeting, Facebooking, Googling, YouTubing, Pandora-ing, Huluing, Netflixing, Skyping, Tumblr-ing and any other computer-mediated communication than they spend carrying on actual conversations with people. Who needs to actually pick up a phone and call, or better yet, sit down and have a conversation with someone face to face when you can spend an extended period of time sending cryptic messages back and forth? (That was sarcasm of course.) To some, that’s fine because communication is communication, and that’s just part of being in a technologically advanced age, right? No, not so much, because failure to participate in verbal communication, especially for teens, leads to stunted interpersonal growth, which will hinder them when they need to socialize with their peers, and will hamper them when it’s time to head to college and the general workforce.

The perpetual use of technology enables anti-social behavior, which is reinforced by the introduction of technology into classrooms, and the requirement for social media interactions at certain jobs. The “memo” culture of passive aggressiveness and faceless communication has become a mainstay in our society, moving from the boardroom into our classrooms and personal lives. It’s getting worse because we’ve reduced our language to abbreviations, acronyms and initialisms –further muddying the way that we communicate with one another. It has begotten a system of communication that is absolutely void of emotion, with the exception of the directives provided by winks, smiles and other emoticons, intended to help us to know how we’re supposed to feel (and a majority of the time, the smiley face emoticon and “LOL” are used in a phony manner). Pre-teens, a demographic that is most affluent in the technological world, are the most affected by this because they have no preexisting knowledge of formal communication, they use the Internet as a crutch for social interaction, and they become crippled by their dependency. So, when they are online, they are able to emit a vibrant virtual personality, with the ability to converse fluidly and share ideas and thoughts, but when the screens shuts off, they are not able to duplicate this personality in real life –because they aren’t armed with the understanding of how to flourish vocally.

Even for older people trying to get to know new people or hit the dating scene, many men and women would rather text a person they’re interested in to death rather than muster up the courage to hold an actual conversation on the phone. Too many people have decided to hide behind computers and phones.

Another issue with social media, in reference to school-age children, and in some cases adults, is that it extends the reach of bullying. Because of social media outlets, taunts, torments and teases which were once only shared in the classroom or on the school yard have followed kids home. This rattles young people, because not only are they not safe from ridicule at school, but they must also read about their short-comings on a Facebook post in the comforts of their own home.
Yes, technology is a necessary utility in today’s society, that’s inarguable, but the fact that we’re always “connected” challenges our ability to effectively communicate with the people around us. This is seen most often when people don’t focus their attention on those around them when they’re out with friends or family, but instead peruse the endless pages of Facebook on their handheld devices. Or, when a person is so busy “checking in” or sharing exaggerated comments about an event/restaurant that they’ve attended, that they don’t take the time to truly absorb and enjoy the experience.

Actions that can be instituted in order to help children or adults to communicate more effectively include insisting that he/her share personal stories, particularly emotional stories, in order to encourage them to vocalize emotions. Also, systematic breaks from technology can help to improve a child’s attention span, communication skills and attitude; a bit more time away from the computer screen also means more time outside with other children (hopefully), and hopefully more opportunities to talk with them as parents. I know we all love our phones, our expensive computers, and our highly decorated Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter accounts, but the social media world is slowly but surely making us mutes in the real world.

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