Communication & technology – How to tune in when we’re plugged in

Technology has opened up innumerable communication channels, sped up the rate in which we send out information, and allowed us to reach a much broader audience worldwide in a cost-effective and very efficient manner. It not only allows us to connect with people we may not have otherwise, it often encourages us to do so. It can do wonders for networking; either for personal or business purposes.

The downside of all of this, however, is the negative impact that technology has on our ability to communicate effectively. As a society, we’ve developed an over-reliance (and in many cases an addiction) to technology. We spend a lot of time on our computers, tablets and more recently, our smartphones. Seriously, I mean a LOT of time. According to an article from the Globe and Mail (based on a 2016 study), it was revealed that people aged 18 to 34 spent an average of 34 hours per week online, which is almost 5 hours per day. That’s 5 hours a day that we aren’t doing the other things on our list. Now that we have much wider access to wi-fi and new apps that are being released daily, we can only presume that those numbers will increase for most age groups.

How does technology impact communication?

Many people are living through their devices rather than having interpersonal connections. You can have 1,000+ online friends or followers, but few real-life friends to actually spend time with. The more time spent on a device or on social media means less time with direct personal interactions. Instead of having a face-to-face meeting, we often default to a phone call. Instead of a phone call, we send an email. Instead of an email, we fire off a quick text. Each time we take a leap further into technology, we become more and more distant and alienate ourselves from one another. All the social skills we work on throughout our lives (just like any skill) can become weakened when they aren’t being used. Other times, we learn new skills or work-arounds, which may or may not enhance communication. One example of this is when teens text their friends as they approach their front door to avoid having to ring the doorbell and be confronted by a parent or other person they’ll have to chat with. The same goes for sending our deepest condolences to a friend through a text message or social media post instead of calling or seeing them in person. Although it’s definitely more convenient, it can further remove us not only from the emotions we experience in those situations, but from important social interactions that build strong relationships. Communication skills are learned skills and therefore need regular practice and fine-tuning to keep us moving forward. It’s hard enough to break through the many communication barriers we experience when we are face-to-face with someone, let alone decipher the emotion or meaning behind a text message or post. Like many things in life, the easiest route isn’t necessarily the best route.

Another concern regarding technology and communication is that people often behave or respond differently online than in person. This is evident with trolling and bullying, which are so prevalent across many social media platforms. Some people feel protected by their online anonymity and therefore lash out or antagonize others. Other times, people post far too much personal or vulnerable information online with the belief that they are reaching out and “sharing”, yet it often ends up having the opposite effect, as they can end up putting themselves at risk or alienating people. The Internet, social media, and online communication in general can be very dehumanizing and even toxic at times. It’s a new world, and one that’s moving so quickly that it’s hard to know how to manage it all.

Striking a balance

I’m not against technology in any way. In fact, I embrace it in many areas of my life and my business, but I’m conscious of the way it can interfere with healthy, interpersonal contact. Unlike our technology use in the workplace, our personal technology use is completely within our control, yet we often feel as if we can’t escape it. By simply monitoring our time spent online and making adjustments where needed, we can free up time for the people in our lives we want to spend quality, real time with. Kids and teens particularly have an immense desire to plug in, as well as tremendous social pressures. It’s not easy for them to navigate those waters easily. Let’s face it: technology and cell phones aren’t going anywhere, and frankly, we’re probably happy about that. However, if we want to continue to move towards reaching our goals, improving our relationships, and bettering ourselves and our communities, we’ll need to assess if, or how, our technology use is negatively impacting our lives and relationships so that we can re-adjust and get back on course.

“Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master”. – Christian Lous Lange