People crave connection. We desire to be surrounded by people who love and accept us for who we are. Technology has made it even easier because we can connect to others around the world with a touch of a button. But what about those close to us? What about the people who we see every day at home, at school, or at work? What does immediate connection do to our ability to socialize? What happens when we start to ignore those people around us and look to a screen for friendship instead of a face?
With the current state of technology, people can get access to anything they desire in an instant. As a generation who has grown up with this technology, we’ve gotten used to instantaneous responses. We have the ability to jump from topic to topic on the flip of a dime, but we also have a tendency to lose focus. A study by Adrian F. Ward, a senior research associate at the University of Colorado Boulder, concluded that the presence of online devices reduces the cognitive capacity of the owner. This means that just having your phone near you distracts you from your surroundings.
Another study conducted by Microsoft found that a person’s average attention span has decreased from 12 to 8 seconds. Eight seconds is barely enough time to tie your shoe. This decrease is a result of our habit to remain connected through multiple forms of media. We are now giving ourselves only eight seconds before deciding to move on from a person or task.
The average person checks their phone 150 times a day. That’s 150 times we look away from what’s in front of us. We may miss the conversation our parents have at dinner, a smile from across the room, or even the child chasing the ball in the road. The constant divide of our attention makes it hard to hold our focus on any single task without a sense of urgency.
We have the ability to be in constant conversation, but never call. As a child from Gen-Z, I’d much prefer a well written text as opposed to an amazing call. However, this preference has left us awkward and nervous in phone calls. Phone calls feel like dropping me on stage and I forget all of my lines. Phone calls simulate communication in the real world. We miss the verbal cues that come up in everyday life because we purposely avoid these types of conversations. Even small talk is important because it’s a skill needed in the workplace and is vital when being polite. Unfortunately, our lack of exposure to verbal communication makes it even harder to convey anything with emotion, depth and meaning.
People use nonverbal cues to communicate how they are feeling. The most basic forms of nonverbal communication are fidgeting, foot tapping, long pauses, and eye contact. Gary Small, a neuroscientist, said we are slowly losing the skills needed to interpret these signals. By taking away physical interactions, we no longer see these signals in our lives. The good thing is, however, that we are adaptable creatures. Small also believes that it is entirely possible to teach people how to empathize, stating, “You can still teach them how to look each other in the eye.” By taking the time to turn off our devices and actively listen to our friends and family, we develop those skills.
We also miss the ability to handle complex social situations. Melissa Ortega, a child psychologist at New York’s Child Mind Institute, said “They [children] haven’t had these years of learning about awkward pauses. Being able to tolerate the discomfort is not something they’re going to be used to, unless their parents make it a priority.” It’s hard to hear, but she isn’t entirely wrong. However, we can make withstanding these types of conversations a priority and eventually learn how to react.
In a technological world, it’s become overwhelmingly hard to stay in reality. The ability to communicate is needed to form lifelong relationships. We need time away from technology to regain the connections we’ve lost. By turning off notifications, we actively fight the temptation to check what’s happening. By spending time offline, we strengthen our relationships in reality. By maintaining relationships, we truly connect.