I responded that other professors would not tolerate this sort of attitude and she should use it as a learning exercise in how to communicate with others, particularly in a professional setting. I doubt she would have had the nerve to articulate such hostility in a face-to-face meeting. In fact, after sending the emails, she was perfectly pleasant in class.
I’m fairly certain this student exemplifies a generation of young people who inevitably will find themselves shortchanged by spending so much time communicating in writing, in front of computer screens, which has become the norm.
According to the Pew Research Center, 95% of all teens are now online, with 63% of them reporting that texting is their primary form of communication; 20% won’t even talk on a land line. As the first generation to experience social media, there’s growing concern about the impacts.
One recent study, by Jean Twenge, author of The Narcissism Epidemic, finds that the extensive amounts of time college students spend on social networking sites leads to narcissism. Other experts say that’s not the only downside. They fear that this generation of young people will grow up with communication skills so stunted, it will significantly impact the quality of their adult lives.
It’s always been true that children have the sense that they are the center of attention, says Elizabeth K. Englander, a professor of psychology at Bridgewater State University. “Social media has enhanced that sense.”
Feeling that everyone is watching them, it may make it more difficult to take risks — even positive risks like a particular kind of job — since if the risk fails, it will be visible to everyone
Feeling that everyone is watching them, it may make it more difficult to take risks — even positive risks like a particular kind of job — since if the risk fails, it will be visible to everyone. She feels a reliance on texts instead of face-to-face communication will lead to impeded communication skills. A text can’t convey the subtle cues, like facial expressions, body language and tone of voice that can be used to better understand someone’s feelings. “It means you have less practice when growing up at reading subtle cues,” she says. That can have a great deal of impact into adulthood, since learning to read those kinds of cues is critically important in communication. Some young people may realize the impact this is having and develop those skills in college or after they graduate, but some won’t ever figure it out, she says.
“This is a transformational situation for young people and we’re just really learning some of the impacts,” says Patricia Wallace, senior director for online programs at the Center for Talented Youth at The Johns Hopkins University. She says those communicating in writing tend to be more aggressive and not have the same degree of empathy, since they can’t see the impact of their words. “They’re not using the kind of oil that verbally lubricates a conversation and makes it less likely to break out into a flame,” she says.
Reliance on social media also carries repercussions as these young people enter the workplace. In particular, social media’s role in encouraging multi-tasking could be problematic, says Neil Bernstein, an adolescent psychologist and author of How To Keep Your Teenager Out of Trouble and What To Do If You Can’t. He said there’s a tendency for young people to tweet, text and check Facebook while in the office, focusing on the personal while in the professional setting. He’s noticed a decrease in eye contact — a key skill for any aspiring young professional — as they remain engaged in the digital world.
Other worry about the impact of students’ increased reliance on emoticons, single words and incomplete thoughts as methods of communication. “When we communicate with short, incomplete sentences and incomplete thoughts, it stunts our own ability to reason and solve problems,” says Kim E. Ruyle, president of Inventive Talent Consulting, LLC in Miami. He points out conflict management, negotiating and motivating others are all workplace skills that require a mastery of language. He says that a reliance on 140 character tweets or brief texts can impede development of language fluency. “It will damage their careers because they will be perceived as being stupid,” he says.
But Jon D. Miller, author of a January 2013 study which found Gen X’ers are just as likely to connect online as they are in person, doesn’t see any long-term deleterious effects. Miller, who directs the Longitudinal Study of American Youth at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, says it’s likely electronic contacts will exceed face-to-face interactions in the years ahead. Social media, he says, merely replaces communication via telephone, and allows busy young people to stay more connected with those who are not geographically close to them.
Nancy Gifford, project manager for the Family Online Safety Institute sees a positive outcome. She points to recent research showing teens prefer face-to-face communication and says they use technology merely to enhance relationships. She argues their facility with email and texts will help, not hurt them the workplace. In particular, she points to videoconferencing, webinars and communicating through social media, which she says are integral parts of today’s work environment. “Teens’ experiences reflect today’s real world -– a combination of verbal and written communication skills that will help them keep pace with the needs of the workforce,” she says.
Do you think the use of social media and non-verbal communication has changed the conversation?