Is Technology Killing Our People Skills?

This article discusses whether cyber romance replaces the passions of the past, but I extend this to all people interactions. I've noticed slowly the transition both romantically, but also in friendships and professionally, shifting into less personal interactions in lieu of electronic interactions. It did start in the romantic department for me, in high school I was asked out a couple of times over IM (Instant Messaging for the two of you out there who don't know!) and of course was creepily hit on by total strangers until I figured out how to keep people from searching for me (I wonder what it was in my profile they were searching for that brought me up? Under the age of 18? Icky!), I started romantic relationships over IM, flirting, even if it was in person that I asked the boy out or was asked out (yes, it was more normal for me to ask the boy out, including with my husband! What can I say, I'm a woman who knows what she wants.) Once I even broke up with a boyfriend over IM. But when it came to friendships, the easier of the relationships back then, I opted for the old fashioned phone. I'd talk on the phone with my friends for hours rather than IM with them. Did I pursue my romantic relationships online because it was easier than in person? No, not originally. In fact, it was usually the boy who started it online, I still preferred the phone or in person than online at the time, but perhaps it made them feel more comfortable. They always had the comfort of asking me out online and if I said no, as I did once, they could always retract it, claiming it was a joke, as the boy did, without betraying any real emotion of rejection or disappointment. And the truth was, of the boys who asked me out online, the ones I said yes to were always awkward in person and the relationship never worked. I think this says something about this method.

In college everyone IMed. You'd IM each other about dinner plans, Friday night plans, classes. I'd even IM my freshman roommate while she was in the room sitting at her desk!! Frankly, it was easier than yelling at her to take off her headphones so I could ask one simple question. Note the word "easier" prop up again. Hmm.

After college I was surprised with how much of the job search actually took place over email. I believe I was actually informed that I was hired for my job in an email! I kept calling because I was trying to decide between two jobs and couldn't get a hold of the HR director for a decision, but instead of calling me back she emailed me. I was happy to have gotten the job but a little surprised at the informality of an email rather than the phone call. Already I was feeling like an alien for calling her rather than just emailing her.

And finally, the text messaging era was a complete shock to my system. When text messaging first came out, I didn't pay any attention to it. I really didn't think it'd take off. How cumbersome and time consuming to type out a message on your phone? Who would do that? Then slowly it started creeping into my interactions with my friends. Friends would text me for plans or just to say "I love you" (which was really sweet). Or if they were having a bad day, they'd text me "Grr, bad day. Call me." Okay, I was getting into it a little, responding to their texts, but not really initiating with a new text message. Then slowly some of my friends would Only make plans through text messages. I couldn't get a hold of them for anything, but only minutes after I called them and left a voice mail, I'd get a text message in response! The height of my despair came when people started canceling on me through text messages rather than calling, as if calling was just too much work. I couldn't believe it, I was mad at a couple of friends for canceling on me in this way, but should I be? Is it acceptable to cancel on a person in a text message now? I found it rude and impersonal, but they didn't seem to think anything of it and they never followed it up with a call, just a "did you get my text?" the next time they saw me. So then I felt silly for being mad, because apparently it's completely acceptable. Sure it makes sense, texting while at work so you don't have to make your party plans with your co-worker's hearing you ask "So are you going to hoe out or go just a little slutty tonight?" And it's nice when you're busy and you know you'll end up talking with your girlfriend for over an hour if you call without even meaning to (which always seems to happen!) And I've noticed I'm texting my friends more, often in response to their original text, but on my own too. It's just easier. Plus, people don't seem to answer their phones anymore, maybe they're busy, maybe they just don't feel like taking the time to actually talk on the phone.

Is this sad? Is it a backward or a forward step for humans socially? Sure, communication is quicker, more efficient, but is this better? I do find myself slightly uncomfortable now interacting on the phone versus electronically. I can always convince myself I'm too busy to call, but am I really or is it just too much trouble and less predictable, so therefore, more uncomfortable? We've all had the uncomfortable feeling of trying to end a phone call when the other person doesn't get our hints and keeps talking. Are we trying to avoid this or avoid the confrontation or guilt trip a friend may give you if you call to cancel plans?

I can't tell you if this is a positive or harmful movement in our society because truly it's a little bit of both. I think it's fine as long as we remember to call each other every once in a while, just to chat, rather than email. If we pop over to our co-worker's cube or office to chat rather than just do it over IM. Yes, actual human interaction is unscripted, you can't delete what you're going to say before you hit send or use yellow faces to display your emotions instead of actually expressing them through words or your own body language. But it's that unscripted nature that makes it special and unique. The way a person scratches his head as he's thinking deeply about something, or how your friend shifts back and forth on her feet when she really wants to say something but doesn't want to interrupt you. These are things that make us who we are and you can't get these things through any electronic communication. After a while, I just have to call a friend just because I miss the sound of her laughter. I don't think I could ever give that up.

Totally Unrelated Side Note: I found this humorous so I thought I'd share.

Last week a former employee brought her children to work to visit and I asked her if she was going to lunch with us. She declined, saying that the only way she could get her 3-year-old son to get out of the house and behave was by promising to buy him a Happy Meal at McDonald's.

Fast forward to last night. We desperately needed to go grocery shopping (the bane of my existence, that and cooking). Tired and whining, I tried to get out of it. After trying many different methods to try to get me to go and behave myself, finally my hubby got me to go by promising to get me a Happy Meal at McDonald's if I went with him. After I heartily agreed, on the drive to the grocery store I remembered my former co-worker from last week and felt slightly embarrassed. But hey, I got a sweet-ass pirate skull that tells you your fate (like an eight ball, but only it's a pirate skull). Rather than the dull eight ball "No" and "Yes" answers, it's answers consist of "Nay, scallywag", "The seas look rough", "Aye, Captain", and my favorite, "No way. Arrrgh!" (I just like saying that one out loud in my pirate voice).


Sandra Ruttan said...

OMG, this might just inspire a post from me next week! Very interesting...

Tony said...

Fantastic! Wonderful! Amazing! What a great post. Serious food for thought. I just deleted a whole thought I had because it wasn't well thought out, yet had I been discussing this with someone I would have said it. E-Communication, both good and bad.

mai wen said...

Great, you've inspired so many posts for me, Sandra, I'm happy to return the favor! :)


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