How Cellphones Can Destroy Communication
I have a love-hate relationship with my cellphone. For one it seems to love annoying the hell out of me, certain problem people or work issues seem to now find it easier to hunt me down when I try hide and I find myself acting like a crack addict needing their hit when I regularly sneak peeks at my BlackBerry for the next message. True, as much as I hate it at times my little bastard CrackBerry like most other cellphones has gone from useful to critical in helping people communicate efficiently and effectively in this day and age. Yet the caveat here is that people need to realise that there is actually a trade off of good and bad with all technologies when we embrace them. The cellphone itself is a prime example of this and it can counter-intuitively also contribute to the deterioration of communication between people if not used in a balanced manner.
Consider how the ability to share electronic documents via cellphones is increasingly critical requirement in the modern world and productivity in the workplace, especially when it comes to the ability to receive one’s email via a BlackBerry. Yet when it comes to getting some sleep you can be doomed to be kept up most of the night and forced to join the zombified sleepless masses shuffling to work the next day if your socially inept (or insomniac) boss believes it means you’re always on call, including at 11pm at night. Never mind poor productivity the next day in the office.
Cellphones’ ability to send messages or make updates to electronic facilities is also immensely useful, yet many wonder why SMS communications carry none of the effectiveness of actual contact or even the ability to encourage the romance that Baby Boomers reminisce about . The fact that such messages can be composed quickly and are often poorly done is commonly believed to be the reason but there is another. First it’s necessary to highlight how Albert Mehrabian observed as far back as several decades ago that only 7% of the impact of a message is in the actual words, with 38% coming from the voice. The clear majority – namely 55% – is from the non-verbal and includes aspects like body language, expressions and gestures.
Yet when we use our phones to Twitter, make Facebook updates, SMS or reach out and touch someone through BlackBerry chat we’re immediately surrendering 93% of the impact and emotion of our messages from the start and which no number of emoticons can help rectify. It’s even worse for some: with accountants 99% of the impact is surrendered from the start but unfortunately we can’t help doomed souls like those given that they’re also like that in person.
Even making a phone call or using Skype on your phone loses 55% of the impact of messages and the non-verbal. Guys take note here especially. It’s also a reason why your lady will likely stay upset with you for missing that anniversary arrangement even when you did your level best to Skype her.
When it comes to live global news updates through our phones we’re also quickly and more easily aware of earth shattering events from around the world like terrorist actions, mass civilian casualties, huge natural disasters and market crashes even when we’re nowhere near a television. Yet if that isn’t properly managed, the small pinging sounds from one’s cellphone or itchy fingers one feels from needing to keep up to date with what’s going on around the planet can quickly turn a relaxing outing into a stressful day. Worse, a much looked forward to dinner date into a dinner table fight with loud comments about each other’s sexual history in a busy public area.
Linda Blair from the University of Bath has also all noted in a study that our brains are sub-consciously incapable of conceptualising the distance or effect of such events. As a result the brutal images from thousands of kilometres away in places like Iraq and Afghanistan which we see on our 3G capable cellphones are taken by our subconscious brains to be a mere kilometre away and we need to do something about it! Your brain also doesn’t understand how that huge market crash that shreds your share portfolio doesn’t mean you’re going to be going hungry that night or anytime soon.
It’s important to realise though that this isn’t some grand clarion call to reject technology, throw your cellphone away and run naked into the bush to drink unicorn giggles and find some poison ivy to hug. Especially given that cellphones are here to stay until the next tech revolution arrives to displace them. What it does mean though is that there is a time when they should be switched off and certain technological benefits taken in moderation, such that one doesn’t need to post ironic Twitter updates about their sudden individual bout of anti-technology rebelliousness.