The Rocket

How technology has changed social interactions

Joshua Kellem, Rocket Contributor

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Rachel Lawler, a senior exercise science major and Slippery Rock University (SRU) Student Government president, and many others like her, think they’ve pinpointed why phone and social media interaction are preferred nowadays, as opposed to walking up to someone and sparking a face-to-face conversation.

“Personally, I’ve had issues with people not saying what they want (face-to-face),” Lawler said. “Having the skill to be confrontational in person is important.”

Lawler, 21, is a millennial. According to Forbes, millennials are too digitally dependent and are non-confrontational. In fact, just under 40 percent of millennials admitted to interacting more with their phones than with the people they encounter in their day-to-day lives, according to Market Watch. As the top student leader on SRU’s campus, Lawler understands the importance of face-to-face communication to carry out the goals of her organization.

“You remember more face-to-face,” Lawler said. “There’s a better chance of listening.”

Under her reign as president, Lawler’s staff will interweave onto the campus’ “hot spots” once a month to build a face-to-face connection with the student body, Lawler said. According to Lawler, the two confirmed hot spots would be the quad, where the majority of students have classes and Boozel, where the majority of students living on campus eat. In addition, the student government office is located on the 2nd floor of the Smith Student Center inside the suite, a hot spot in itself because of the slew of organizations and faculty that occupy the space, most notably Associate Provost for Student Success Dr. David Wilmes.

As a millennial, Lawler said lack of “self confidence” is why her generation prefers using smartphones and social media to communicate.

“You can be anonymous,” Lawler said. “They can be someone else on social media and different in person.”

But Lawler said, preference is a generational thing. Millennials have to have a phone, Lawler said, as it’s the way millennials grew up. The first iPhone came out in 2007, according to The Verge, meaning millennials were the first generation to grow up using a phone. With the advancements in technology, it’s hard to see face-to-face interaction becoming the dominant medium of communication again, Lawler said, but it’ll remain an important skill to development interpersonal skills.

“People are caught off-guard talking face-to-face,” Lawler said. “Don’t be intimidating, be friendly, introduce yourself.”

But the perspective of why smartphones and social media communication are preferred in 2017 has taken a 180 turn. Wilmes, 41, isn’t a millennial, but is as crafty as a forty-something could be using social media.

To clear the air, Wilmes said his generation, and every generation preceding millennials, are becoming more connected to the internet, more specifically social media. As a non- millennial, Wilmes said he mainly uses social media as a source for “news” and “disasters”, admitting he spends approximately five hours on social media throughout the day.

Surprisingly to millennials, Wilmes said technology developed at the same time millennials grew up, and they’re not to blame for non-face-to-face communication becoming the norm.

“(The) technology wasn’t there when I grew up,” Wilmes said.

But Wilmes said, there are drawbacks to non face-to-face communication when it comes to dealing with student conflicts. Wilmes said there’ve been several instances where roommates texting instead of talking face-to-face have caused communication to be interpreted poorly, citing the ease of texting as a good and bad thing.

“If you forget something, you can text your friend ‘can you pick it up?’,” Wilmes said.

Back in his youth, Wilmes said things were “different”, as he made most of his friends based on common interests and proximity.

“Now, you can connect online with Facebook friends you’ll never see,” Wilmes said.

In 2017, one could make a call and plan to meet someone at 9p.m., but Wilmes said those plans were made face-to-face and if someone didn’t show up he continued on with his plans, catching up with the person the next day. Wilmes said millennials are the scapegoat for non-face-to-face communication, but listed “addiction” and “catfishing” as potential dangers.

Catfishing is when someone pretends to physically be someone they’re not online, according to Urban Dictionary.

While he defended smartphones and social media as forms of communication, Wilmes said seeing students’ heads buried into their phone walking on campus bugged him.

“They’re not in the world,” Wilmes said.

Inside student government headquarters on the other side of the suite, Alexandra Foster, a senior exercise major, defends millennials preference of non-face-to-face communication.

“We grew up with it,” Foster said. “We were born into a culture. As we’ve grown older with advancements of technology, we have to rely on it.”

Foster said non-face-to-face communication started with millennials, but that the next generation will continue to prefer it, leaving face-to-face communication as a secondary option.

“I don’t think [face-to-face communication] will be the norm,” Foster said.

Foster, from New Hampshire, said she relies on non-face-to-face communication to communicate with her family, friends, and boyfriend. Foster said she Facetimes her mom every day.

Still, Foster realizes the potential of non face-to-face communication in hindering one’s development of interpersonal skills.

“You can’t get a job with technology, with interviews, making friends, social life,” Foster said. “Get comfortable getting out of your comfort zone.”

But, the preference of smartphone and social media communication opposed to face-to-face is missing something.

Suddenly, there’s a realization that Assistant Professor of Communication Douglas Strahler, 34, hasn’t weighed. Interestingly enough to those opposing non face to face communication, Strahler, an older millennial, may have a solution to the conundrum. As the lone professor of the Social Media course at SRU, Strahler’s no stranger to the debate.

“For most of us [millenials], we were brought up on technology,” Strahler said.

Strahler recalled cell phones initially being used for emergencies, but that now these devices can have anything done on them.

“We’ve knocked down boundaries,” Strahler said. “We used to have pen pals, but now it’s a simple click of a send button.”

Strahler said communication is expedited through social media and texting, but cautioned the response isn’t always as fast.

“If we can send it that fast, we want a response that fast,” Strahler said.

Doubling down on Lawler’s sentiments, Strahler agreed people use technology to avoid confrontation.

Strahler said technology never gets dated, as we perpetually replace it. With news outlets moving to push their content online via social media, technology will always evolve. According to Strahler, no one has to check the weather, as they could ask their voice controlled device such as Alexa or Siri. In the future, there’s a chance of a technology advancement bigger than the internet to occur, according to Strahler.

“A lot of people will point to artificial intelligence,” Strahler said. “People don’t realize how much information is being accessed from them online.”

Strahler said people rely on smartphones and social media too much, but that they’re also taking advantage of technology. All in all, people have to find the balance, Strahler said.

Echoing Wilmes’ sentiments, Strahler said it bothers him when people are walking while on their phone, as they’re using it to fill time in between classes.

“We can’t enjoy what’s going on,” Strahler said.

Strahler said taking away people’s phones would make them feel lost, while some would suffer from mobile phone anxiety.

Mobile phone anxiety is the feeling of anxiety or distress that people experience when not having their phone, according to Scientific American.

All together, Lawler mentioned smartphones and social media leading to people being afraid of face-to-face communication, and Dr. Wilmes said other generations are catching up to smartphones and social media. But, zhe also mentioned they’re addictive. In fact, Wilmes said some people aren’t a part of the world, only their physical bodies confirming their presence, not their attention. But Foster said, while face-to-face communication is important, non-face-to-face communication is too. Without it, Foster wouldn’t be able to see her mom, albeit on Facetime. Finally, Strahler said it’s a representation of the technological boundaries being knocked down, with the potential for more in the future.

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How technology has changed social interactions