Physical interaction has been consistently dwindling as a form of communication. Writing has been around for thousands of years, allowing people to communicate across distance. It was, by no means, a fast form of communication. In recent centuries, the telegraph made it possible for people to transmit their thoughts across distance much quicker. Then came the telephone, and then television, making fast communication not just audio but also video (It was, however, limited in who could broadcast). Then we arrived in the age of the internet. This opened up the world to near instant communication between anyone. Things like snapchat and facetime have allowed anyone to send a picture or hold a ‘face-to-face’ conversation with anyone in the world with an internet connection. While all of these things have reduced the level of physical interaction required to function as a citizen, the internet especially has dramatically reduced that level. The most affected age group of this reduced need for physical interaction would be teenagers and young adults. With their higher technological ability, they have access, not only by technological literacy but also by social normativity, to more media for communication (i.e. Snapchat, twitter, etc.) than elder generations. However, their constant use of smartphones and internet communication services may be limiting their social abilities.
Interacting with the people around oneself can build and maintain different social skills. When people are constantly confined to interacting with the people at the other end of their phone conversations, these social skills do not get developed. This is especially true for teenagers as they are just entering the realm of adulthood which is a crucial time for development of these skills. As an avid user of my smartphone and the internet, I have noticed that I may have been hurting my social skills. As a kid, I was always outgoing and rarely ever shy. Now, I sometimes find myself struggling to ask questions in classes or being hesitant to make phone calls for professional reasons to people I haven’t met. I honestly believe that my use of technology has contributed to this “fear”. I developed a sense of safety and security with texting to the point where I don’t even make phone calls. I also believe that, had I not had my phone on me, I would acknowledge the world and the people around me much sooner. Being able to shop, compare products, find reviews, and even bank online has significantly reduced the number of times I need to leave my home but also the number of interactions I have with people. It has hurt my confidence and I’m sure the same is true for other teenagers and young adults.
Even some forms of digital communication (i.e. the phone call) are being used less often because they expose a vulnerability in people when they use it. However, this vulnerability doesn’t really exist. People have been able to hide behind messaging as it allows for people to carefully craft what they say before they send it. The vulnerability is purely an overinflated fear of not being able to come up with words on the fly that qualify as human speech as is required with phone calls. The reason the vulnerability doesn’t exist is because people have been orally communicating for millennia and all of a sudden humans are afraid of the words that may come out of their mouths. Nonetheless, some people, even myself, still feel this fear and it’s equally the case for physical interaction.
So what’s wrong with not being able to communicate in physical interactions? Well, for example, employers have interview processes. Often times this can be over the phone or in person. Rarely do interviews take place via e-mail. Potential employees need to be well versed in talking to people and technology has made some not so. I must reiterate how extremely strange that sentence is when compared with the centuries upon centuries of people communicating orally. But tragically, it’s a reality for some young people.
Digital communication has severely stunted the social skills of people of all ages, especially young people. While it is not entirely bad and technology has done amazing things to progress us as a society, it limits our ability to interact with each other. It, in turn, severely limits the professional potential of anyone who allows it to consume them. While there is no way to get people to stop using their smartphones, the best way to get people talking to each other is to show the benefits that can come from physical social interaction.