It seems like a popular opinion of anyone over the age of thirty that face-to-face communication skills are suffering at the hands of new technology. They fear that no one seems to understand body language because of texting, Facebook and other internet marvels. The inevitable conclusion of this fear is that generations of the future are doomed.
Dave Rogerson, a senior quality coordinator at Arcelor Mittal Dofasco, has spent the last 31 years making sure steel production runs as safely and efficiently as possible. He has also spent many of his last years working with Dofasco’s IT department; he feels there are issues with communication that are no laughing matter. “We get into these situations where they just can't communicate properly,” says Rogerson.
He explains that many IT people as well as younger co-workers can't handle the real world, that all the digital training simulation and online prep work is making people think they can handle themselves when they can't.
“Communication is suffering because younger generations don't understand that not everything can be done online,” says Rogerson. He continues to point out that “sometimes people have to get in and handle the problem in person.”
According to Rogerson, it's all about putting too much faith in technology without ever considering what it's actually doing to the world around us. “I see my company install virtual inspection programs but it all falls through when the tech people lack any sort of face-to-face communication, or even regular communication skills to put it to good use,” says Rogerson.
Despite all this, Rogerson is not anti-technology. Rogerson says that he loves his smart phone, knows his email is important, and even admits technology is doing a lot of good. He simply worries that close-minded people will suffer from poor communication skills and miss out on reality unless they see all possible situations.
Is Rogers on to something? Is the latest generation growing up close minded and communication impaired due to technology?
Break on Through to Reality
One computer science graduate has an interesting theory that may not involve just young people but all people. Iain Macdonald has grown up in the technological revolution; inspired by the ever changing world of technology, he decided he had to be a part of it. “Going into computer science at McMaster made sense; I've always been good with technology and with the way the world is going I figured I'd at least have a job.”
Macdonald's theory is that there has to be adjustments with every new technology; otherwise face-to-face communication and even the future are at stake.“When it comes to new technology, people basically become entranced—almost zombie mole-like creatures—but eventually we realize what we've done and change the situation,” explains Macdonald.
He illustrates this bysharing what happened to him and many young people in the early 2000's when broadband internet became easily accessible: “we became completely fixated on email. Unless you were sending emails, no one cared.”
Macdonald also says that, fortunately, there’s more to the story. “After a few months of people being socially inept, we figured out how to properly use emails and now we've even improved our communication skills.”
Macdonald's theory is about how every major advance in technology that supposedly destroys all personal skills and makes people body language blind has the same result. The majority of people realize how to use said technology to undo the damage it has caused and make life even better.
“Email was supposed to destroy all social skills; texting was supposedly making everyone boring cyborgs who couldn’t understand emotion. Guess what? We all got over it,” says Macdonald.
He has spent his entire life around computers and the people who build and program them but that doesn’t mean he's completely on the side of technology. He even goes so far as to support some of the points made by Rogerson: “I know for the most part technology has helped us out but there’s always that one guy who it might not have.”
Macdonald notes that, even working in an industry dominated by programmers, coders and geeks, in-person communication is still very important and often times extra measures need to be put in place to help those who need a reality check: “We had to take classes on our communication skills.”
He points out that that his industry may have the best and brightest in the world of computer technology, but when it comes to dealing with real live people there are still those who struggle. That because with the increased use of instant messengers, Facebook and texting, sometimes people really do lose touch.
“There are some examples of individuals who can't handle social situations and you can tell it has something to do with computers,” says Macdonald. “The guy who has to send his part of the code or his contribution online because he can't be with a group. The guy who is so socially awkward he says LOL in real life instead of actually laughing.” These are the people Iain feels just need a little more time to adjust to everyone else.
So what is really going on? Is it young people or is it just a society of individuals trying their best to adjust to an ever changing environment? Is Macdonald right and everyone is to blame or is Rogerson's view more correct? Are young people incapable of communication without a phone?Do they need a reality check?
Louder Than Words
To better understand current youth, it's best to look to the opinion of a person who has spent years around them. Todd Hotchkiss has been an educator for 16 years and spent the last five as a vice principal to Abby Park High School in Oakville Ontario; he's seen the rise and fall of many teenage fads and trends.
“Teens today are just as involved in communicating face-to-face as any generation, if not more,” says Hotchkiss. He feels that the rise of the internet, texting, and Facebook has increased communication, body language skills and even produced teens that read and write more frequently than the last generation.
“You have all these students reading all sorts of articles on various sites and all they want to do is talk to one another about it,” says Hotchkiss. When younger people read about things they often want to discuss it with their peers and this leads to an increase in social skills.
Hotchkiss sheds light on why he feels younger generations are only going to be more advanced with their communication skills as time goes on. “There's a huge pressure to maintain an image, not just in person but online too…if they have no communication skills, everything falls apart.”
The young people of this generation and future ones might just have a unique problem facing them. “With all these young people being so open and always communicating, it makes them almost reality stars … with all that pressure it can be daunting, exhausting.”
The true danger with new technology; not a generation of people who can't communicate, but those who are so burnt out on sharing everything they never know where to draw the line.
No one is sure of the future. The only thing we're certain of is that people are still communicating; some are struggling to with face-to-face interactions while others are better than ever. We also know that effective communication is a challenge that won't go away any time soon.