Remember those good old days when we all used to sit around in the parlor and snipe cleverly to each other's faces? Remember when we used to spend hours (and $$) making long-distance calls to our far flung loved ones? Remember when we used to leave each other voicemails? Man, those were the days. But now it is all over. All we do is text, text, text, and as a result experts fear that the fine art of conversation is dying faster than you can say, "Oops, I mean Thursday, not Thyroid. Damn you, autocorrect."
We have, of course, been heralding the death of good conversation since approximately the time that the first conversation was had. But this time it is SERIOUS, you guys. The AP reports that we are texting so much that we totally forget that we have faces, and so when we're confronted with humans in physical form we don't even know to direct our face in the general direction of theirs and say things like "I'm so-and-so. Nice to meet you."
The AP even has the chilling tale of a 13-year-old girl named Anna Schiferl who had the nerve to text her mother from bed to say she wanted cinnamon rolls for breakfast when her mother was right downstairs in the kitchen. You see? Kids these days are so lazy! Back in my day, we'd lie on the couch watching TV and yell at our parents until they were forced to walk into the room to be able to understand our requests for breakfast. The took real lung power, and it gave our moms exercise too. Now technology has ruined everything.
We are now apparently suffering from a societal division known as "the talkers vs. the texters." Well, which side are you on? It probably depends on how old you are, since the olds tend to be traditionalists when it comes to directing their voice at another person's head. The fact that the youngs are so reliant on typing could serve them very poorly, according to Janet Sternberg, a linguist and professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University. She says of actual conversation, "It is an art that's becoming as valuable as good writing." She also reports that more of her students don't look her in the eye and can't handle the basics of a normal conversation. This, she points out, will not help them when they're trying to get a job, probably from someone who is older and knows the ins and outs of speaking to humans in person and on the telephone.
Naturally, young people don't seem to think they're missing much and don't see the need to school themselves in the craft of making conversation. Lisa Auster-Gussman, a college senior says she uses different modes of communication for different people. Professors get emails, her parents get phone calls, and otherwise it's all text all the time: "I don't communicate much with older people. So much of my life is set up over text." Must be nice? Hmm, no one can accuse her of not communicating because she averages about 6,000 texts a month, and a lot of that comes from group texts she has with friends from her building. Hope your inevitable case of carpal tunnel someday is worth it, honey.
So, crippling hand injuries aside, what's the problem? The kids these days are still talking to each other, just in one line, grammatically questionable phrases instead of full sentences. Well, that is precisely it, says Joseph Grenny, who co-wrote Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High. He says the conversation over text doesn't get deep enough to be really meaningful. Of course, he points out this is nothing new. Every generation before us has had some version of the same problem. Telegraphs, after all, weren't too deep.
Still, what are we going to do to save conversation from the iPhone death grip of the children? Well, Grenny advises that parents start practicing the art of conversation themselves by putting down their phones and talking to their kids. Wow, there's a revolutionary idea. Mary Ann Allison, an assistant professor of media studies at Hofstra University, says she has her students keep a log of their contact with people to make them more aware of how conversations are over different forms of communication. Sternberg forces her students to practice basic things like standing up and introducing themselves to a group of people. Or you can forget all that and remember that the children our are future, and rather than teaching them well, we should just sit back and let them lead the way. After all, soon enough us old people who require actual conversation will have gone to the big answering machine in the sky, and they'll be down here beaming thoughts directly into each other's minds.
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