Are We Connecting More But Communicating Less?

Recent statistics say that cell phones are now being used more frequently for data (e.g., texting, web surfing) than for phone calls. This has led me to think more and more about trends in interpersonal communication in general.  Until recently, almost all communication was face-to-face. To be sure, earlier civilizations had smoke signals, carrier pigeons, the telegraph, and the U. S. Mail, but our current society has so many options for connecting, including land-line phones, cell-phones, texting, email, Facebook, Twitter, and so on.  We use these newer options routinely, and they are certainly convenient.

But it’s interesting to compare what we lose in communicative richness when we gain this convenience.  Face-to-face interactions give us a wealth of information that help us interpret the messages we receive and help us enrich the messages we send.  When we communicate face-to-face, we hear each other’s words and tone of voice; we’re aware of whether the other person speaks haltingly or not; we see their facial expressions and nonverbal bodily cues, and we notice whether they’re looking us in the eye or avoiding our gaze. When we move to the various forms of electronic communication, we always lose some of these features.

When we choose to send a text message or an email rather than to talk to someone directly or even call them, we are stripping our communication down to its barest essentials—words.  That may be appropriate when the message is simple, like “the meeting starts at noon.”  But when the message is more complex, involving emotion or necessitating tact, how much are we losing when we rely on our convenient devices?

Recent statistics also say that local cell-phone calls are getting shorter.  What does this say about our communication habits?

4 Responses to Are We Connecting More But Communicating Less?
  1. Phil
    March 10, 2011 | 4:09 pm

    check out this video from my media class!

    • Joanne
      March 10, 2011 | 7:54 pm

      Thank you for contributing that video. Unfortunately, it comes up as “private,” and does not permit me to watch it.

  2. Joanne
    March 10, 2011 | 7:53 pm

    Thank you for contributing that video.
    I agree with your students that the Internet is not making us stupider. In fact Facebook has some wonderful positive outcomes. In addition to the ones you mention, recent research shows that using Facebook for five minutes improves mood and self-esteem. I was just talking about the potential effects when online communication or texting becomes so dominant that it crowds out face-to-face interactions.