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The Fall of the Personal Interaction

The Fall of the Personal Interaction
The erosion of personal interaction is serious problem... Photo courtesy of Public Domain Pictures

People shuffling in the all-too familiar gait with one hand out, holding some piece of technology and staring dumbly down at it with no attention to the periphery or even what’s further ahead. Neck strain, poor posture, thumb-swiping injuries aside, there are new evidences that our everyday encounter with the use of cell phones, ipads or whatever mobile devices we choose, can lead to long-term problems in our lives.

While developing countries are still producing a lot of manual laborers, those of the industrialized societies don’t use nearly as much that labor. In these developed countries, there are a lot of other modern conveniences to aide us in our everyday life.  Historically, there was the advent of the vacuum cleaner and the blender in the 1950’s in American culture. We landed a man on the moon only a few years after these inventions with less gigs of memory than a handheld ipod from even a few years ago.  But, where are all these newer personal electronic devices, having internet capabilities and other convenient technology, taking us?

There are currently at least three lines of thought. One is that, as people are less engaged with their natural environment where kids are less apt to go outside and play, adults less likely to exercise since they are more engaged with their devices, that people in this generation as compared to 50 years ago, are physically weaker with less healthy hearts, suffering vitamin D deficiencies, and major eye problems.  There are even some internet based games where the rapidly flashing lights and other images that come across the screen, when the game is played competitively the players have actually grown nearly blind.

Another line of thought is that not only are we getting weaker in general physique and poorer in eyesight, but also we are causing problems for other areas of our body.  Some of these can be debilitating and potentially have lasting effects. Some examples of other problems associated especially with personal computer use are neck injuries and spinal cord injuries from sitting in one position all day. Atrophy of other muscles occur when one has a desk job and sitting at a computer all day.  When working on data entry and other repetitive motions made at a personal computer or a laptop, we know there are increases in other injuries to wrists and fingers, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.  These injuries are not often corrected until surgery.  All of this of course has nothing to do with dietary problems that arise such as the poor diet, which many choose to engage with when they are at their computers, and lack of exercise, which occurs now more in children and young adults than at any other age,  and thus an increase in childhood obesity and diabetes.

Other issues involved more with the millennial generation who have had access to the internet and mobile devices nearly their whole lives.  There are many critical thinking skills that they lack which are present in previous generations. Because they are able to use  a program and have a device tell them immediately which direction to travel or other information, critical thinking such as planning out events, basic mapping skills, even calculation of a grocery bill are missed, among others.

A third line of thought is that not only are there problems with basic academic skill sets, there are other problems in terms of social and behavioral skills.  Social skills are just like any other skill in life – they have to be learned and then practiced.  Basic social skills involve proper eye contact.   Eye contact is voluntary and gaze can be improved with practice, according to a 2014 article, in Psychology Today. Correct skills are rewarded, and when someone makes a faux pas, then they are equally corrected.  The reward of course, is learning how to be friends and maintaining friendships and other social relationships in a healthy, balanced lifestyle.  There are other studies which have shown many of our young people today aren’t able to converse for very long periods of time, and even when they are able to maintain conversations, their eye contact with each other suffers.  They are not able to really dialogue as well as previous generations could do in a face-to-face situation. In 2013, college students in Connecticut were part of a research study trying to show evidence of this factor. It was found that those with poor social skills preferred technological tools for communication, where the twenty-somethings show the behavior of looking at their phones periodically even during a dinner, and don’t view it as rude or offensive.

They communicate with their peers and others through devices that have internet interfaces such as computers, laptops, ipads etc. And also through mobile devices through emailing, texting, facebook or  “I.M.”ing, skyping, snapchatting, vines, which all have their own abbreviations and methods for communication. So, there’s an argument of the technology allowing for multiple conversations and for there being conversations from across the globe, and that the conversation including more than just two individuals.  While this is true, there is the aspect of missing out on the social and behavioral aspects of a one-on-one. According to one Wall Street Journal article, “the ideal gaze lasts 7 to 10 seconds… Adults make eye contact between 30% and 60% of the time in an average conversation, says the communications-analytics company Quantified Impressions. But the Austin, Texas, company says people should be making eye contact 60% to 70% of the time to create a sense of emotional connection.  Later in this same article, Ben Decker, chief executive officer of Decker Communications, says that ‘people who avert their gaze too soon, or avoid eye contact altogether, are often seen as untrustworthy, unknowledgeable and nervous.”

While those with a higher anxiety and less adept social skills use technology more as tools to help in the communication process, those who are more adept at social cues tend to not use the various tools or software or applications as much and continue to exhibit better more mature social abilities in face to face communication.   So, if you have your phones for communication, obviously use them when you are parked and not driving; use them when seated as a respite not walking on the crowded sidewalk.  But, also stay engaged with the activity of life and learn to turn the phone off when in that important conversation.  In the long run, as long as there is a balance between electronics and life, we can possibly avoid some of the pitfalls.

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