Is the preference for texting over talking causing a decrease in interpersonal communication skills on the phone and face-to-face? What has happened to the art of conversation?

A recent article by BBC Technology1 features the concerns of several experts who warn that we’re in danger of losing our finely honed ability to indulge in vocal exchanges with others. And one of the reasons for this is apparently our desire to regulate our ‘output’.

Over-arching theme

Sherry Turkle, Professor of Social Psychology at the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has been exploring the effects of the digital world on human behaviour and she is very worried. Control is an over-arching theme. Synchronous ‘real-time’ interaction is less desirable because ‘you can’t control what you are going to say’.

Professor Turkle conjures up a generation of young people afflicted with what she calls ‘psychological lockjaw’ – a desire to be able to edit what they say before they ‘broadcast’ it.

The decline of the voice call

And suddenly, as if by magic, everyone seems to be writing about the decline of the so-called ‘voice call’ in the national media. First, it was Zoe Williams in the Guardian2: ‘Are we losing the art of telephone conversation?’.

Then Nosheen Iqbal in the Observer3 weighed in, defending Millennials’ redrafting of the rules of communication engagement, as if it doesn’t matter that people are losing the habit of engaging in spoken word communication!

Zoe Williams does raise an interesting point though: people used to talk for hours. Why they don’t do this anymore might be due to their lack of desire to encroach on someone’s private space. However, I think it’s more to do with time – a commodity in ever shorter supply.

Talking is a luxury

Perhaps as a result of the digital revolution, there is now no limit to the ‘stuff’ one can do online and hence, our work is never done. Coupled with the fact that the majority of people claiming benefits are actually in work, perhaps talking has simply become a luxury.

Getting involved in a conversation, from which you can’t extract yourself without seeming impolite or downright rude, is a dangerous pastime. Better avoid it altogether!

Education Minister

And then another article caught my eye, by Education Minister, Damian Hines, addressing parents’ concerns about screen time4 after the scandalous discovery that more than 25% of children starting primary school cannot communicate in full sentences.

What is strange about his analysis of the situation is that the solution apparently is for ‘parents to get involved in their children’s language development from an early age’. One wonders how this is going to happen if parents, themselves, are glued to their smartphones busily tapping away and not speaking!

Speech therapist

Which reminds me that a speech therapist told me some years ago that delayed speech was already an increasing problem and was, in her opinion, the obvious consequence of parents spending more time on their devices rather than talking to their children.

Funny how the Secretary of State for Education seems to think it’s the children’s fault for spending too much time plugged into their devices. If parents don’t lead by example, you can hardly expect children to limit their own screen time!