Is Connectivity Killing Conversation?

By Joanne Blake | Dining

Feb 12

Parents Beware: Technology is Impairing Social Skills

This past month I have been to a few conference dinners Family at table all with deviceswhere I have been seated with many young professionals – most of them under 30. Conversation is often fragmented because of interrupting each other by sharing neat stuff on their phones, snapping pictures of the food, entertainment and taking selfies.

An alarming trend

This certainly illustrates the alarming trend that I heard MIT professor Sherry Turkle, talk about in her new book Reclaiming Conversation – The Power of Talk in a Digital Age on CBC radio. (Click here to listen to the interview.)

Connection not the same as conversation

She pointed out the irony that our connectivity is damaging our relationships with each other. While we’re highly connected, connection is not the same as conversation.

Parents beware

Sherry Turkle is making a call to put down the phone and talk. More importantly, talk to our children.

She highlighted the effects of technology on rendering our children unable to converse. She referenced comedian Louis CK’s rant on cell phones and children. Because of all this online activity if we don’t make direct eye contact when we talk to kids, they fail to learn these basic social skills and their development suffers.

Put down the phone and talk

She described a significant empathy gap, which starts to show up in grade school.  Kids can’t talk or respond to each other.  By the time they reach college there is a 40% decline in markers for empathy.

Compounding the problem

While we often blame the kids for being uncommunicative, Sherry Turkle insists that parents are largely responsible for children’s anti-conversation behaviors. We’re constantly multi-tasking, checking emails while putting children to bed, texting while giving baths instead of talking to them, texting at dinner and so on. Then we worsen the problem by giving them screens at an early age instead of engaging with them.

What can we do?

Here are Sherry’s tips to reclaim conversation and help our kids:

  • Create sacred spaces – technology is not to be used in the car, kitchen, dining room or the classroom (I would add the restaurant table)
  • Don’t use your phone as your alarm clock, it’s too easy to get sidetracked. Put it away from the bed & use a old school alarm clock.
  • Make an extra effort to have face-to-face conversations and look people in the eye
  • Parents need to model the type of behavior they want their children to embrace
  • Talk, read and make eye contact with your children so your kids learn how to give and respond to facial cues and emotions.
  • Schools need to be cautious about giving up their libraries and accepting donations of tablets from organizations.
  • College classrooms are beginning to rethink phones and laptops in the lecture halls.
  • In business, conversation is good for the bottom line – workers do more, collaborate more and have greater productivity and creativity when they are given both privacy and an opportunity for conversation

I’m reminded of a great quote I once read: “Children are natural mimics who act like their parents despite every effort to teach them good manners.” – Author unknown

Like Ms. Turkle, we’re not anti- technology but pro-conversation. We’re doing our best to equip business people both young and old with the skills to communicate. Thankfully many adults who have taken our networking courses are sending their kids to our children’s social skills course. Let’s all lead by example.

Click here to hear the Canadian Broadcasting Company interview with Sherry Turkle.
Click here to listen to Lewis CK’s cellphone rant.

Posted by Joanne Blake – Canadian business social skills expert and conversation initiator

About the Author

JOANNE BLAKE Canadian speaker, corporate image consultant & business etiquette expert. If you're interested in booking a presentation, keynote or coaching, contact me. Based in Calgary / Edmonton, Alberta in western Canada.