Are Social Networks Stunting Your IRL Communication Skills?

Talk about irony: All these ways to communicate may hurt our ability to do it effectively.

Over at Mashable, journalist/author/instructor Julie Halpert recounts a strange teaching experience: After she marked up a pupil's paper, said student sent a sneering email about why she deserved a higher grade and, what's more, scolded her instructor for "scattered and inconsistent edits."

Halpert, the cool-headed prof, asked that they meet to hash out how the "B" came to be—and give the student a chance to practice professional communication—but the she declined the invitation, saying that she didn't want to waste her time. And then she was "perfectly pleasant" the next time they met in class.

"I doubt she would have had the nerve to articulate such hostility in a face-to-face meeting," Halpert writes. In Halpert's assessment, her acerbic, mercurial student is representative of a generation raised on screen-based communication, one "who inevitably will find themselves shortchanged" by it.

Halpert alludes (but doesn't directly refer to) data from the Pew Research Center, which found that 95% of all teens are online, 63% text as their primary communcation, and 20% won't talk on a land line (what's that?).

Elizabeth K. Englander, a Bridgewater State University psychology professor, tells Halpert that electronic communication lacks the subtleties of body language and tone of voice that are crucial to understanding another's feelings (unless you type like thiiiis or tweet like thaaaat).

And then there's the workplace implications. An adolescent psychologist, one Neil Bernstein, says that younger people tweet and text while in the office, bringing their personal lives into professional settings—but what if they're community managers? Or anywhere in the media? Or tech?

Still, not everyone's down on the kids and their interconnectivity: Family Online Safety Institute project manager Nancy Gifford argues that "teens' experiences reflect today’s real world," one replete with videoconferencing, webinars, and other e-portmanteaus. Such skills will help them keep pace with the changing workforce, she says—one that is increasingly distributed and mediated, regardless of age.

Why Eye Contact Still Matters In The Age of Email

Drake Baer writes about leadership for Fast Company. You can follow him on Twitter.

[Image: Flickr user Richard Busch]

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  • LaurenNisbet

    I don’t know if ‘stunting’ is the right word, but I do think that the
    way people communicate is evolving - it’s undeniable that people are
    willing to say things in the virtual world that they would never
    actually verbalize face to face, but I don’t think that proves that our
    person to person skills are necessarily ‘stunted’ - I think it just
    means we need to pay more attention to what we say and be a bit more
    critical of our own communication style and how we’re presenting
    ourselves to the world from this new platform.

  • Lawson Hembree

     It has been interesting to see the effect of social media on young people. I help out with a youth group each week and students can often be seen texting/tweeting/Facebooking their friends that are in the SAME ROOM. Instead of interacting with them in real life, they would rather do it digitally, even in close proximity to them. Pretty troubling. 

    Here's a blog post I wrote on this topic: http://lawsonhembree.wordpress...