What method of communication allows you to learn more about another person: a post on Facebook or a face-to-face conversation? We connect on a deeper, more meaningful level when we converse with others personally, yet studies show an increased dependency on social media. Why?
Social media is a convenient way of communicating, but it lessens the quality of the connection. Almost two-thirds of U.S. adults admit they use social media to connect. Its rise to prominence changes our ability to interact with others on a meaningful level. Our social skills are challenged to the point that many now struggle to interact in traditional conversations.
Before social media, the ways in which we connected and how many people we reached were limited. We depended on phone calls and face-to-face interactions to strengthen relationships. On the upside, the latest technology provides endless ways to connect. We can also reach more people than ever. The downside is the way we communicate has also changed, challenging our ability to make meaningful connections.
One survey revealed that 74 percent of Millennials prefer conversing digitally rather than in person. While this helps them communicate more efficiently, it diminishes their communication effectiveness. The more people use digital communication, the more interpersonal communication skills decline. Our need for rapid bits of information replaces our ability to clearly express thoughts and ideas when speaking to others.
Consider how often you check your phone and social media updates. Our “fear of missing out” has created bad habits that have rewired how we interact with each other. Some studies suggest the rise of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is directly associated with overuse of social media, as our brain easily loses focus due to ongoing demands for our attention. One study found that heavy users of digital media were twice as likely to develop ADHD than their peers, attributing such lack of focus to a continuous, daylong stream of information. This forces us to process more quickly and to crave more digital input. The more we get, the more we require to feel satisfied.
Social media also challenges our communication etiquette. Our need for efficiency has surpassed the consequences of digital dialogue. People too often say whatever comes to mind without thinking about how the receiver will interpret their tone and intent. We miss the fact that there is a human on the other side of the screen. Ultimately, it has created more misunderstanding and miscommunication, which threatens our relationships.
From Twitter to text messaging, comments are limited to short one- or two-sentence answers. While it’s helped us make messages brief and clear, it’s done so at the expense of quality communication. Poor grammar is now commonplace, while abbreviations and acronyms have become commonplace.
People have become addicted to their devices. A distressing 62 percent of people studied admit to using digital gadgets while with others. They most likely have no clue that the quality of conversation and their ability to meaningfully engage is affected.
One study evaluated how mobile devices affect the quality of face-to-face social interactions. Results found that conversations without digital devices were far superior to those conducted while devices were present. It also discovered that people in device-free conversations were better listeners and more empathetic to those speaking. Another study revealed that the presence of devices affected closeness, conversation quality and connection, especially when more meaningful topics were being discussed.
Social media and digital dialogue can have its place in our world if we take control of our usage, both personally and professionally. Start implementing these five steps to gain more awareness of your digital addiction:
- Use your calendar to schedule short periods each day to check social media updates. Refrain from checking in outside of your scheduled times. This will ensure you remain accountable for time spent online and encourage traditional communication method
2. Leave your phone behind. During a meeting or presentation, leave your phone at your desk. Do this as well when you visit a co-worker’s desk or head to the breakroom. This will make it easy to engage without disruption. When it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind.
3. Choose one day a week to be technology free. Consider turning off all technology – computers, phones and tablets – one day a week. Make this a rule for the whole family. Challenge yourselves to engage with each other in more personal ways.
4. Go cold turkey. If you believe your social media use borders on addiction, or if you don’t feel strong enough to resist the urge, use an app to silence social media. Tools such as Facebook Eradicator will silence your news feed entirely and help you slowly reprogram your need to read.
5. Pick up the phone for its intended use. Call a friend instead of messaging. Video call a client instead of emailing. Walk over to a co-worker instead of instant messaging. Either way, choose to use your technology for a more intentional connection.
There is no denying that social media has been helpful in connecting us with others. We also can’t deny its unfortunate impact on our social skills, making us lazy communicators and disrupting our need for meaningful conversation.
But by implementing these five steps today, you can begin redirecting your attention to genuine conversational connections. We can change that now by taking ownership of technology use and becoming more intentional in personal, face-to-face conversations.