Empathy and self-reflection are two important human characteristics that we seem to spend a lifetime trying to develop. But what if there was something undermining this development without us even realizing it? Actually there is – and it’s partially due to the digital age of communication.
Let’s look at just one of the possibilities – our techie patterns of communication. Many of us seem wedded to the texting, Facebook, Instant Messaging, Twitter etc. craze in which we either send ‘words’ (I use the term loosely) in 1 or 2 phrases to communicate. The message is received but little else. In fact, I know of a lonely mother of 2 adult children who receives 95% of all communication from them this way!
Our voice is energy. Real conversation is an exchange that involves two parties with both an intended message and feelings involved. When we actually talk to someone it causes our brains to process their humanness and helps us develop greater empathy. Interestingly, a recent psychological study of students from the smartphone generation has found a steep decline in empathy. Not just a decline – but a steep decline. That’s big. Is it time to reevaluate our incessant 3-5 truncated ‘word’ response to someone and take an additional 5 minutes to actually talk to them – hear their voice – and listen as we check up on how they are doing? Don’t have a lot of time? No problem. Just start the conversation with, ‘ I only have 5 minutes but wanted to talk with you.’ You set the stage for them to give you their undivided attention.
The smart phones are an incredible tool for both efficiency and effectiveness. I am not discounting the importance of being able to send off a quick response to a colleague or friend in need of a response regarding a time or date. That just makes sense. But rather it is the other type of communication I am talking about which cannot replace the positive effect of a heart to heart talk regardless of how many emoji symbols such as 😏 ☕️ 💁 you use. Something is just left flat and feels a bit missing in this later type of communication.
Steve Jobs, the man who said he wanted to make a dent in the Universe (and did so) by creating the smart phone realized this as well. Even given the incredible way he was able to reshape communication in our world he still forbade tablets and smartphones at the dinner table and encouraged real conversation to take place instead. He recognized the value of human connection.
When we see people unable to function without checking their phones repeatedly we are really witnessing lonely people in search of connection. It is as if they are saying ‘I’m here…include me too,’ as they scroll the latest social media site in search of a bit of news from family or friends. Sad. Unfortunately, this type of connection does not help to develop empathy or self-esteem. In fact, it may even erode them further since there is no personal depth or meaningful exchange between people.
Maybe we can’t find the time to send a Hallmark greeting card (yes … they still exist and are beautiful things to send and receive) but when we choose to stop merely ‘thumbing’ our way through communication and occasionally pick up the phone and call we are saying ‘ I care enough about you to stop and touch base.’ Greater empathy and self-esteem will result on everyone’s part in the long run. That’s a beautiful thing.
Have a great few days!