Have Electronic Devices Killed Conversation?

conversationA short while ago I mentioned to a friend that I was frustrated because people weren’t returning telephone calls and he just shook his head at me.

“Josh, no one uses the telephone any more. It is ancient technology and it would be better if it died.”

The universe must not have wanted us to have that conversation because in the midst of my reply both of our cellphones rang but we responded differently to them.

He let his call go to voice mail and then replied via text message while I chose to answer mine.

“Don’t you screen your calls?”

I nodded my head at him and then asked him to hold on a moment because thanks to the magic of Caller ID I knew that it was my daughter on the line.

He mouthed goodbye and said he had to get to back to work so I waved goodbye and watched him walk to his car.

It probably took him all of my five minutes to wander from the restaurant out to the parking lot. By the time he opened the door I had finished my conversation.

The reason my daughter called was to find out who was picking her up and where she should meet them.

If we had communicated via text messaging it probably would have taken at least a dozen texts to answer and confirm all of the necessary details.

The telephone conversation covered it all in less than two minutes and without any confusion.

Have Electronic Devices Killed Conversation?

Had my friend and I continued our conversation I would have told him I routinely screen my calls and I often communicate via texting.

I also use the telephone on a regular basis because there are moments where texting is far less efficient and useful than a short conversation.

But the thing that really prompted this post was something I saw at my daughter’s soccer game.

It was a group of teenagers sitting together but no words were being exchanged because they were all participating in a group chat.

This isn’t the first time I have seen that happen but something about that moment made me wonder what sort of affect electronic devices are having upon conversation.

I spent the rest of that day and many in between watching people to see how they were communicating with each other and most of what I saw were faces looking down at keyboards and not at other faces.

It was enough for me to think there is probably something to it. There is a correlation between what kinds of conversation are taking place when electronics are part of the mix

Nonetheless I would caution you to take my unscientific survey as gospel because I don’t have hard numbers or any studies to cite as proof that electronic devices are killing conversation.

This Is Not A Good Thing

Ask my family and friends and they’ll tell you I am a heavy user of my phone and computer. I like my electronics and use them  for personal and professional needs.

But I know how to put them down and how to speak with people when I am on the telephone or face-to-face.

I am beginning to wonder if that is a sign of age or if conversation is a dying art.

If you and I are connected there is a very good chance we have exchanged emails and or text messages but there is also a good chance you’ll find me on the other end of the phone.

There is a personal touch that comes with hearing a voice and as mentioned it helps prevent misunderstanding.

When you have verbal cues you don’t spend extra time analyzing the words because you are not sure if the message you got is supposed to be sarcastic, angry or sad.

I am interested in having more balance between the two mediums than what I think I am seeing today.

What about you? What do you think?

Maybe yes, maybe no.

Maybe yes, maybe no.

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  1. Tim Bonner March 29, 2015 at 1:17 am

    It’s got to the stage with me that I feel lost without my mobile phone. If I don’t have it on my person, I’m wondering where I left it and if someone’s trying to get in touch with me.

    In reality though I tend to have more face to face conversations when my phone isn’t on my person! Before mobile phones came along, I definitely had more conversations on the landline and face to face.

    Texting has also become more convenient than a call. I often text someone rather than call them in case they’re in the middle of something. At least then they can always call me or say give me a call.

    What I don’t like though is that we’ve become tied to the technology. Group chats between teenagers on a phone rather than face to face? That’s not good. Relationships won’t ever develop in a meaningful way if that’s how we move forward as a society.

    • Joshua March 29, 2015 at 11:58 pm

      I am the same way about my phone. I am always conscious about whether it is on me or not, which I suppose is part of what irks me. I don’t like feeling dependent upon it.

      And like you I do text a lot, but the face-to-face is becoming a bigger preference of mine, probably because it happens with less frequency than before.

      Times are changing, that is for sure.

  2. Louise Findlay-Wilson March 27, 2015 at 5:16 am

    I completely agree with your blog and Danny’s comment. A phone call is often the much more efficient way to get something resolved (and it’s how relationships are deepened and confusion avoided) – yet far too often people attempt to do everything via text or email.

    Frequently all they are doing is batting back and forth on a task rather than actually completing it. Giving themselves the sense that they are doing things – but without things actually getting things crossed off the ‘to do’ list. While I certainly notice this with work-related situations, there is also a tremendous tendency for people in their personal lives to bury their faces in their gadgets and miss the world around them. The sight of parents staring at their iPhone rather than interacting with their children is particularly depressing.

    • Joshua March 27, 2015 at 4:42 pm

      Hi Louise,

      You are correct about the lack of production that sometimes accompanies the 87 text messages people exchange.

      It makes me crazy to waste time ‘writing’ about what we are supposed to be doing instead of doing it.

      If I had my way a short discussion would be had to determine who is responsible for XYZ and then a text message would follow providing confirmation of who is doing what.

      Anyway, I know you mean about parents and tech. I try hard to not spend all of my time with my phone in hand children standing next to me.

      They need to see our eyes and recognize we are engaged with them and not the phone.

  3. Danny Brown March 26, 2015 at 4:12 pm

    Every morning, I jump on the train to commute to work, and this includes using the subway when I hit downtown Toronto.

    Every morning, without fail, I look around and see faces buried in phones. What the owners of the phones are doing, who knows?

    It may be important – a sales presentation in need of fine-tuning before a make-or-break meeting. Or an email response to a social media crisis. Or, perhaps, simply texting a friend or loved one.

    More often than not, it’s playing one of the many addictive games that seem to sucker us in and turn us into heads-down zombies.

    I get it. Our lives are super busy. We need to be always on, always connected, always doing something. Because busy is good, right? Maybe not.

    When I look around and see the top of everyone’s heads, it makes me sad.

    We have a beautiful world around us. At the time of day I commute to work in the morning, the sun is beginning to rise. In Canadian winters, this is an amazing sight, with whispers of colour trading space with newborn clouds and flickering daylight.

    But this is missed for the sake of another minute with eyes glued to a 5″ screen.

    Progress, eh?

    • Joshua March 27, 2015 at 4:29 pm

      Many of my favorite memories and moments come from the quiet time I spend or have spent traveling from one place to another.

      I like people watching and I like looking around to see what lies just beyond the windshield or window. Sometimes it is nothing and sometimes it is pretty damn interesting.

      But I have to concede there are moments where I don’t feel like interacting with others and getting lost in my phone helps.

      There is some kind of balance between living in an electronic bubble and being cognizant of what is happening around us.

      That picture you describe of the scenery sounds beautiful.

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