Communication Breakdown: The Effects of Social Media and Texting On Relationships
When the line at Starbucks is long, when class gets dull, when conversations get personal, when loneliness strikes, we grab the phone like an Old West quick draw. Though our generation is marked by social media, experts are anxious of its effects on relationships, specifically our capacity for communication.
“We’re setting ourselves up for trouble,” said Sherry Turkle, psychologist and cultural analyst, at a recent TED talk. “Trouble certainly in how we relate to each other, but also in how we relate to ourselves and our capacity for self-reflection. We’re getting used to a new way of being alone together.”
“From social networks to sociable robots, we’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship,” Turkle said. “We turn to technology to help us feel connected in ways we can comfortably control.”
Students’ thoughts on conversational texting and social media’s effects on relationships teeter between convenience of control and the desire for true communication.
“I think it’s made it easier to hang out with people and make plans and talk to people throughout the day, though you may not be able to hang out with them,” said Haley Brisben, sophomore. “You can talk to whoever you want, whenever you want. It’s just easier to communicate.”
Senior Macy Brisben agreed.
“Some people are always on their phones, and it makes it hard to even talk to them in person,” Macy Brisben said. “Otherwise, you can just use it to hang out more and see each other more.”
Young people ages 18 to 24 are racking up the most time on the Internet. In the past year, consumers increased their social app time by 76 percent, and overall time spent on social media sites increased 24 percent, according to an annual social media report by the Nielsen Company. But the Internet’s most valued customers are becoming more aware of the dangers of overexposure to social media, hoping to improve their conversation skills.
“I think it (texting) makes it harder for us to talk to people face to face,” said Avery Zorn, sophomore. “We are a lot more comfortable in confrontation and talking about bigger issues through texting than when we have to talk to the person. You can just text them and not have to look them in the eye.”
Zorn and her friends gave up from social media for February.
“It really has affected us,” Zorn said. “We went on a road trip and none of us had social media. We had three hours of talking to each other, and it was really good. We were forced to sit and have conversation with one another.”
“I used to wake up and immediately check my Twitter,” Zorn said. She said she would get on social media when she didn’t want to study or didn’t want to look bored walking across campus.
“It’s probably more comfortable to have a conversation over text, but it’s not something we can’t escape from,” Zorn said. “Doing this for a month, it’s been a lot easier to talk to people face to face about things that are hard to talk about.”
In Turkle’s talk, she said that if we don’t have connection, we don’t feel like ourselves, resulting in connecting even more to feed our loneliness.
“When we don’t have the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people in order to feel less anxious or in order to feel alive,” Turkle said. “When this happens, we’re not able to appreciate who they are.”
Real conversations take place in real time, making people anxious and unable to control the conversation, Turkle said.
“Texting, email, posting, all these things let us present the self as we want to be,” she said. “We get to edit, and that means we get to delete. Not too little, not too much, just right.” Turkle called this the Goldilocks effect.
“I have used the ability to edit so many times that it’s hard to deny the fact that I don’t just love that,” said Lawson Wright, freshman.
Wright said that he does his best to avoid conversational texting, since he’s an animated talker and many of the facial expressions and tones he uses when he speaks, especially sarcasm, do not translate well over text.
“A lot of people I know have been able to perfect, somehow, their messages so it’s read just the way they want it to be,” Wright said. “I think that’s why I don’t like texting, because I can’t do that well.”
Wright said engaging in more face-to-face conversations has made him more confident in developing his language and conversational abilities.
“When you’re able to edit what you’re about to say, it makes face-to-face things hard because you can’t,” Wright said. “People just sit there and trip over their own words because they can’t edit what they’re saying; they’re so used to being able to change what they’re about to say. To craft and mold, that works when you’re trying to write a poem where you have to write and rewrite, but when you’re talking to people, that’s a whole different animal.”