Reclaiming Conversation (2015) reflects on how we interact with one another in our increasingly digitized world. Constant interruptions, leaving messages unanswered and lack of interest have all become the norm in a world rife with mobile devices and screens. But is this what we want? And if not, what can we do about it?
You’re meeting a friend for a drink and, just after you sit down, she pulls out her cellphone. Are you offended? Should you be offended?
Whether you’re ticked off or not, having a phone at the table disconnects us from the people right in front of us. Studies have shown that even having a muted phone on us when speaking with a friend changes the nature of our conversation. Knowing our attention may be needed elsewhere at any moment makes us revert to superficial conversation and steer away from more sensitive or emotional topics.
People also feel less connected to one another when there’s a phone lying on the table. This has become a noticeable problem and, in general, communication via digital media is hindering us from forming strong emotional bonds and empathy.
One recent study compared the interaction of college students communicating face-to-face with students communicating via digital means such as a video chat or online messaging. The results showed that the strongest emotional bond was created between the students communicating in person.
That’s because face-to-face communication has some clear advantages over digital devices: our faces allow for a direct connection between the words we speak and the feelings that accompany them. Also, those communicating in person can offer each other more attention than if they’re talking over Skype. For example, students will browse online or even watch videos while Skyping – something they wouldn’t do if they were sharing the same physical space with their conversation partner.
Ultimately, these new ways of interacting can have dire consequences. Studies have shown that college students are now displaying up to 40 percent fewer signs of empathy when interacting with others than was the case 20 years ago.