- Are we creating a generation that can’t look another person in the eye when they speak?
- If we use emojis continuously do we lose the ability to find the adjectives and adverbs to express emotion?
- Are social skills lost when we don’t engage in face-to-face dialogue?
Technology has created a revolution in communication no less radical than the invention of the printing press in the 15th century. Cell phones, in particular, can bring world-wide access to the exchange of information and unite people across the world. Social media has assisted political activity, even revolution, in multiple regions of the world during the last decade. All these benefits, however, come with potential problems: in this case, diminishing the opportunity for children and adolescents to develop strong skills in social communication and for adults to exercise the skills they have already acquired.
How many children, teenagers, even young adults would rather send a text message than call a friend? Even more, how many adults use email for business and social interaction, eschewing the telephone and direct conversation? How many children and adults feel the need to have their cell phones with them at all times, looking at incoming messages even as they sit at meals, socialize at parties, even while attending meetings? Is the problem simply the obsession with technology or is it even deeper? What is happening to the skills for social and language pragmatics — the keys to communicating with another person? How much is being lost or never developing?
Speaking with an individual should mean engaging in meaningful dialogue. The critical skills of social pragmatics include the ability to understand tone and intonation, verbal nuances such as comedy and sarcasm, turn taking, maintaining eye contact to signal interest, and interpreting facial expression. These are so essential that children and adolescents who never have good models and the opportunity to practice these skills can become awkward, nervous communicators. They often become the individuals who have trouble interacting in social and professional contexts.
Can children learn these critical communication skills and adults exercise their abilities when they converse through text messages? The development of language and social competencies requires modeling and practice. Relying too much on gestural language and a code such as emojis deprives individuals of the opportunity to stretch their language skills and find the right words — adjectives and adverbs — to describe feelings and thoughts.
How much failure to communicate accurately occurs in the cryptic, often abbreviated text message or even the email that is sent off without a second reading? Shorthand and short cuts save time but may cost more than minutes in terms of the valuable skills for interacting with others.
Check back soon for more articles on communications, effective speaking, speech pathology and executive function skills.