Point/Counterpoint: Does Technology Help or Hinder Communication?

Written by Kaitlyn Jensen, sr. opinions editor and Christina Vu, asst. features editor
April 19, 2010 • 6,201 views
Filed under Opinions

Helps

Pretend for a moment that this newspaper is the greatest technological advancement . Not only would you not be reading this article online or in the paper, but you would also not have the luxury of a cellphone or a computer. Your expectations for communication would be very low. In fact, with the exception of letter writing and talking face to face, you would not engage in communication at all. Now come back in the present. It’s 2010, and you hear people complaining about how technology is destroying communication. “People never talk face to face anymore.” ” People can’t convey emotions anymore except through emoticons.” These are only a few of the complaints surrounding technology and communication today, and they are both directed at the wrong killer.

Not surprisingly, the majority of complaints about technology inhibiting communication come from older people who are disgruntled by being forced to learn new skills to communicate. Though it is understandable and even expected that technology would be confusing for people who didn’t grow up with it, this is not an adequate reason to blame it for communication problems. Rather than harboring unjustified dislike for technology, these people should invest in learning how to use it properly. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t met a single person who knows a lot about technology and doesn’t like it, so maybe technology is not as bad as we thought.

First of all, people spend plenty of time communicating face to face. In fact, we spend more time in community than we ever could without technology due to the ease of making instant plans and contacting multiple people at once. Sending out a mass text or a facebook invite is an easy, efficient way of planning gatherings. Though some may complain it’s impersonal, that is actually one of its greatest benefits. Too often, people don’t make plans together because they don’t think they know each other well enough to ask or that the other person won’t want to hang out with them. Technology allows people to make plans in an impersonal, less intimidating way, which in turn allows them to spend quality time with a variety of people in person.

Technophobes also complain that emails and texts are too easily misunderstood. Well, these people need a serious wakeup call. Sucking every ounce of emotion out of a few words on a screen is a terrible idea. The technology is doing exactly what it is supposed to – it’s allowing the instant exchange of words, but it’s our job to remember that this is all it is supposed to do. If we are trying to communicate heartfelt sentiments, it’s up to us to communicate them effectively, using clear and straightforward language. Or better yet, just wait until you can talk on the phone or in person. How can we expect a tiny screen and 160 characters to express the complex message we communicate in person using words, facial expressions, and body language? It is the unfortunate truth that many people use the wrong mediums for the messages they want to convey, and this misuse of technology is a problem; however, technology cannot be blamed for the actions of its users. With great power comes great responsibility, and the responsibility falls on us.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember in this debate is that we are extremely lucky. Complain as we may, what other generation could video chat with friends a thousand miles away? This is practically as effective as being in person, compared with the alternative of not communicating at all. Also, technology allows us to choose the preferred medium among countless possibilities. Depending on our circumstances, we can communicate in the most appropriate way possible, whether that be a phone call, a text message, an email, or even a facebook message. So tell me again, how is technology destroying communication?

It is not technology that’s inhibiting communication, it’s us. Without technology, the communication we’re complaining about wouldn’t be possible. We are in no way forced to misuse technology or make assumptions based on insufficient information. Perhaps we blame technology for our communication problems because we’ve been offended by people who misuse it. Or maybe we just need a scapegoat for our miscommunications, but when it comes down to it, we need to realize that technology doesn’t use itself. We are responsible for everything we communicate. Does communicating via technology have its flaws? Yes. Do the disadvantages outweigh the benefits? Not even close.

Hinders

Faceook. The new ultimate matchmaker as we ladies acquaint ourselves with the opposite sex online. Sometimes without their even knowing it (yes, Facebook lurkers, I’m talking about you). Facebook, just one of the many social networking sites in the world, has greatly sped up communication to literally a blink of an eye. Need to talk to someone on the other side of the globe? No problem. E-mail, instant-messaging or phone calls are at your disposal. Just take your pick.

Yet, these advancements are doing more harm than good. Though technology has no doubt increased the speed of communication, it has ultimately hindered our ability and more importantly our confidence to communicate. Sure, typing messages on a keyboard is easy. But what happens when you have to have an actual conversation in person? Nerve-wracking, I know.

What was once a fear of public speaking has transformed into a fear of verbal communication of any kind. Because of applications such as AIM, individuals have become so adapted to speaking through their keyboard that they are unaccustomed to using their verbal skills.

I’m sure we’ve all encountered at least once in our life someone who was extremely friendly online, but actually rather shy in person. Since we rely so wholly on electronic modes of speaking, the thought of communicating with someone face-to-face is actually rather frightening. Instead, we prefer to hide behind a computer screen and instant message as it makes us feel more confident and less socially awkward.

This confidence stems from technology’s impersonal and less confrontational nature. Some would say this technological impersonality is an advantage as people are able to make plans with others in a less intimidating manner. But, why should we even be intimidated in the first place? Technology has made us dependent and accustomed to impersonal social contact. We are fearful of having personal conversations with new acquaintances, and clearly, this bad habit of perpetual shyness needs to stop.

One of the major drawbacks of technology is its inability to convey emotion. Often e-mails, texts and instant messages are rather cut and dry, with extremely short messages and acronymic jargon. However, some argue that though text messages are not the best way to convey emotion, this is not an issue. Technology is designed to be fast, and being abrupt and lacking emotion are the side effects of this speed.

Still, it’s important to remember that emotion remains to be a vital part of communication, and it cannot be overlooked. Yes, there are the benefits of speedy technology, but the limitations of impersonality need to be acknowledged as well. Technology works to make up for this in the form of emoticons.

All veteran texters, e-mailers and instant messengers alike are familiar with the all-popular emoticons and acronyms, and the emotions that come with them. Insert a :) when you are happy and :D when you are ecstatic. Or perhaps a :( when you are sad and maybe even a >:( when you are VERY sad. But, while emoticons are a cute novelty to include when sending a message to someone, there is such thing as overkill. Emoticons should not be inserted into every possible situation. :)))))) LOLOLOL every five seconds? No, thank you. >:|

Emoticons are everywhere, and this rise of shorthand has caused many to rely wholly on smileys and acronyms to convey their emotions and feelings. No longer do we use our words to communicate our happiness. No longer do we convey our feelings through writing and language, or perhaps through vocabulary and literary expression. No. We turn to the colon and parentheses combined to express ourselves. :) Wonderful.

It is undeniable that technology makes life much easier, so this is not a command to completely eliminate technological communication from life. Instead, it is a warning to cut back. When applications such as AIM or Facebook cross the line and become the primary mode of communication is when the trouble begins. For example, technology creates a shield of anonymity that has contributed to the rise of online bullying.

The innovation of concepts such as e-mail and online messaging has spilled over to cell phones in the form of text messaging. While texting does have its benefits in regards to speed, its drawbacks are having an effect on social etiquette and manners.

As it slowly becomes the primary mode of communication, people often opt to send a text message instead of a phone call and can even be seen texting when in the company of another person, be it during a face-to-face lunch or conversation. Instead of taking the time to personally interact with company, they ignore them and choose to speak through their phone with someone else.

Technology has its benefits, yes. Without it, society would not be as advanced as it is today. But recognizing the differences between moderation and excess are crucial. Technology should be used, not abused, and bad habits need to be avoided.

So don’t just sit there behind your computer screen and stay inside all day. Instead, get out there, get some sun, and get some communication on. Perhaps try unplugging and getting to know people face-to-face. Using your words is a good thing. But speaking them is even better. [Insert situation-appropriate emoticon here] :)

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