Social Media, Email, and Texting: Are They Creating Superficial Relationships?

By Claire Wilson '13Staff Writer

Is communication becoming more efficient? Technological innovations of the 21st century have certainly maximized the number of people one can contact at a time thanks to mass e-mails and text messages or status updates on Twitter and Facebook. At first glance, this is a great improvement! Now I don’t have to spend endless hours giving the same “life updates” to my mom, dad, grandparents and friends from home. Instead, I simply update my Facebook status, or if I’m really feeling up to it, I might write a short e-mail and send it to my friends and family list. This is especially convenient during the holidays because now, instead of writing individual Christmas cards, I can just send out a mass “Merry Christmas!!!” text message to my contact list. Clearly, my generation’s form of communication is improving.

However, any economist would tell you that you should always perform a cost-benefit analysis and the influence of electronics in the information age has a severe opportunity cost. The result of rapid and mass production is the loss of quality. Although electronic communication, at first glance, appears to help us maintain in-depth personal relationships, in actuality, it facilitates the opposite effect. Strong personal relationships are being sacrificed to electronic communication. I am not arguing that texting and e-mails are bad. They are very practical and beneficial in many situations. However, they have become too much a part of how we communicate today. I believe that we underestimate the value of face-to-face conversation. Facial expressions, voice inflection and body language are an authentic part of how people convey their ideas and connect to one another. I cannot deny that in a generation of globalization, these new technologies are great for communicating with family living out of state or friends in Peru. However, we should not resort to electronic modes of communication for communicating with geographically close friends and family members.

Additionally, the new texting and Facebook “etiquette” for developing social and romantic relationships is pathetic. There are too many electronic guises that we can hide behind to keep actual feelings from surfacing. In today’s world, it is good sign that someone likes you if you meet in person or talk on the phone. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a depth deficit.

The new tools that we use to communicate on an impersonal level are not the only electronics to blame. The ones that distract us from communicating at all are also at fault. Independently, we may be entertained by televisions, computer and video games, iPods or iPads. Whatever it may be, these electronics are so entertaining that they convince us to engage virtually with software rather than engaging directly with one another. We are plugged and attached to multiple electronics all of the time. As students walk to class they are texting on their phones or listening to their iPods rather than chatting with their peers. One may argue that listening to a podcast is more interesting that conversing with another student, but guess what: people are interesting.

The dynamic of social interactions between families and friends is also on the decline because of this multitude of electronics. A family game of Canasta—with tangible cards—after Sunday night dinner is unheard of now. Today Mom is exercising with her Wii, Dad is watching the recorded afternoon football game, little brother is playing on his Xbox 360 and older sister is stalking cute high school boys on Facebook. It seems that in the competition for most interesting, electronics have defeated humanity.

The ramifications of this increase in electronic communication are severe and, as a result, I predict that the coming generation will have a serious lack of personal skills. People are not only losing the ability to enjoy real human interactions, but they are also losing the abilities to interpret the words and thoughts of others and to verbally express themselves. Worse, they are not going to want to communicate in person—not just because it may be “easier” not to, but because they are afraid to do so. Youth today do not have the same confidence when communicating with people because they are accustomed to interacting through electronic mediums.

In conclusion, electronic communication is unfulfilling. You could be texting, typing in a Gmail chat room and receiving new notifications on Facebook all day while sitting in solitude, without so much as opening your mouth or lifting a brow. We may be communicating more, but we are really communicating less.