Anxiety and anticipation are what political science major Max Fecske associates with having a conversation through technology. Not being able to see their face and awaiting a response to what was sent to them are contributing factors.
“You wouldn’t feel [that] if you were just having a conversation with somebody,” Fecske says. “It completely cuts out body language and interpersonal communication from conversation and that’s dangerous.”
Sister Jan Hayes R.S.M. has been teaching at Webster for 19 years, primarily Ethics in the Media. She compares this age of technology to a “tsunami of digital messages.” Hayes recognizes that one of the major problems of communicating digitally are that nonverbal elements are removed from the message which makes it much more likely for people to misunderstand.
“The minute you take that visual away, the whole dimension changes,” Hayes says.
Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of “Silent Messages,” conducted several studies on nonverbal communication. His results were that only seven percent of a message is conveyed through words, 38 percent through vocal elements and 55 percent through nonverbal elements such as facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc. This means that 93 percent of a message is received through nonverbal communication. Since the majority of people communicate through technology almost every minute of every day, according to Mehrabian, 93 percent of their messages are lost.
With vast amounts of people being just one “send” away, English and psychology major Natalie Baker feels that technology sometimes creates a lack of emotion.
“I can text [my boyfriend], but it’s just words on a screen, and a lot of times it’s just sort of canned phrases, like ‘goodnight’, ‘have a good day’ — you mean them, but you sometimes forget what they mean to you,” Baker says.
A chance encounter on Tinder lead Baker to her boyfriend, even though they grew up in the same town. Baker owes the “airstreams of the internet” for beginning her relationship since the two probably never would have met otherwise. Baker had been using the dating app for only a couple weeks before they matched. With the positives technology has brought her, Baker still sees the negative effects it has had on relationships.
“I think it can connect people who would have never even known they had anything in common, but at the same time it can totally erase emotions and sort of distort the reality of the situation,” Baker says. “The screen flattens [emotions] so it’s totally up to interpretation and it’s very likely not going to be how you meant it.”
Hayes thinks texting is not a very thoughtful mode of communication and prefers to keep her texts more informational based — she rarely sends anything that is emotional. She believes there are certain forms of communication that are just not appropriate for the digital world, such as a highly personal conversation, when one is angry or correcting an employee.
“Those kinds of things should never be communicated in a digital format, and I’m always appalled when I hear that people do that,” Hayes says. “As an ethicist, human dignity is really important to me, and I think taking a more personal form of communication and doing it in such a depersonalized format is very undignified.”
One thing in particular that bothers Hayes is when she sees a couple at dinner and they are both looking at their smartphones the whole time.
“Why are you at dinner?” Hayes thinks. “This is the interpersonal part; look at each other, talk!”
Like Hayes, Fecske believes technology has affected the way people communicate with one another. He mentions a change in the dynamic of relationships, most typically seen in the form of couples typing out paragraphs instead of having a face-to-face argument or conversation.
“I think interpersonally we’re taking a step back because people are losing the ability to truly have an effective, healthy conversation,” Fecske says. “Everything is written, and it’s not like love letter written — it’s in shorthand, fly by the seat of your pants.”
However, Fecske can see the positives of technology’s effect on relationships as well. He believes technology has done a lot of good in its time and has made life more convenient for everyone.
“The problem of feeling alone is one of the things that [technology] gets rid of,” Fecske says. “You’re never really alone anymore, there’s always people with you.”
General statements that technology is either good or bad are both going to be right, according to Baker, because there are so many different perspectives.
“For some, being able to connect with people, it saves their lives,” Baker says.
She thinks that face-to-face communication is much more important for her personally, but recognizes the significant role technology plays when a couple is in a long-distance relationship.
“That’s all you’ve got, and that’s everything,” Baker says. “So I think technology is beautiful for those circumstances.”
Hayes has lived through the evolution of technology thus far and realizes that it just wasn’t possible to be in contact with this many people, on an everyday basis, before internet platforms were invented. But for her, she is not completely on board, which is why she deactivated her Facebook and doesn’t have a LinkedIn.
“Honestly, I don’t know if it’s realistic,” Hayes says. “It can consume a huge amount of your time and I don’t want to have to maintain all of this. I begin to feel a little bit like a prisoner of it.”
Don’t get her wrong — Hayes still has a lot of excitement about technology.
“I think it’s wonderful. I’m in contact with people all over the world and I love it, but sometimes it does seem like digital overload,” Hayes says.
Baker went through a similar experience with Facebook and deactivated her account after feeling invaded.
“It’s disturbing to me because a lot of times me and my friends will constantly reference what others post,” Baker says. “It becomes such a huge part of our narrative that sometimes I just [feel] like my own words were being choked out, my own opinions were being warped by how they wanted to be presented on the internet.”
Baker is excited about where technology will take the world and feels that her generation, especially, uses technology to fight for each other’s humanity — organizing in a way that, according to her, wouldn’t exist without internet culture. She thinks her generation gets a bad wrap for being apathetic because of technology.
“I don’t think that’s the case at all,” Baker says. “When used correctly, I think in some ways technology has made us emphatic. But if something bad happened with a friend, I’d hope they’d tell me instead of expecting me to see it on Facebook.”
Story by Chelsie Hollis
Photos by Isaac Knopf