I think I might get T-Shirts made with the slogan—“Even though we’re miles apart, a computer screen connects our hearts.” It sums up my families reliance on technology to feel close and communicate when we are separated by work.
Our FIFO (fly in fly out) lifestyle demands we use phones, mobile devices, and computers more than we would if we were seeing each other every day. We all have instantaneous methods at our fingertips to communicate. This is a wonderful thing, and I personally am very grateful for it, yet there is more to consider when navigating online communication and social media—the to do, what to be aware of, and what to avoid.
Technology itself is not a bad thing—it is how it is used that can be a cause for concern. We need to be aware that technology can completely rewrite our brain pathways. For people who spend too much time interacting through a screen, the neural pathways change and different ones are created.
A study by UCLA professor Dr Gary Small in 2007 asked three regular internet users and three neophytes to browse websites, in an attempt to point out the cognitive differences between heavy and light multi-taskers. Dr Small discovered differences in the neural activity between both parties when tasked to Google pre-assigned topics. The part of the experienced Internet users’ brains involved in decision-making and problem- solving lit up like fireworks, but the same couldn’t be said for the other half of the group.
After further testing under this study, test participants were asked to browse the web for one hour a day. Dr Gary Small discovered that the inexperienced Internet users’ brains lit up like their experienced counterparts six days later. This showed that people’s web surfing habits change their neural pathways. Online activity affects concentration, self-esteem, and people can lose empathy.
Communicating via a screen can increase a lack of empathy. This leads to people saying things electronically they’d never say directly to someone—because the person to who they are talking to isn’t physically present to display their emotional reaction. Dr Gary Small said in 2011, “I think all this online time is weakening our face-to-face human contact skills. Many people, particularly young digital natives, gain social support through their hours of texting and social networking, but does that person who averages more than 11 hours each day using technology look you in the eye when you have a conversation? I know when someone maintains eye contact, I have a greater sense that he or she is listening and interested in what I have to say. I feel a greater empathic contact.”
I think it is as if the part of our nervous system that registers the feelings of others has been paralysed or removed when we are communicating electronically. I have had times where I was talking to others electronically and they respond in a way that shows the message wasn’t received as I intended. When we discuss further they are quick to realise that they had misread what I was saying due to us not being face to face.
Five tips to use phones and computers effectively -
- Don’t say anything electronically that you wouldn’t say in person.
- Use your words well, whether you are speaking, texting, or typing. Re-read it and attempt to avoid any misinterpretation before sending.
- Don’t delay responding to messages you would rather avoid. If you feel you don’t completely understand, ask for more information rather than disregard, or ignore it.
- Listen for tone of voice cues as to how the person is feeling or hearing what you are saying, and always check for understanding.
- Remember emojis are not a true expression of feelings— nothing is better than hearing a laugh and seeing a smile on someone’s face.
Mobile devices and computers are not just connecting tools for family and friends. The screen world expands to include a global network of people who have access to each letter you type and the technological footprint you are creating.
I enjoy the benefit of instantly sharing photos, quotes, memories, and activities on social media with my friends and family. I like that I can support others if they are struggling and post about it in an online group I am in. Just remember though that in these online groups some people use a screen and keyboard to confront others, and some share difficult emotions that they would not do face-to-face.
Use online communication and social media properly and mindfully. The Internet is an amazing tool and it is here to stay. To make technology serve you well requires good judgment. Aim for a balance of online and in-person connecting and really think about what you are posting and how that affects others. Think about how it represents you and your family and keep at top of mind that a gentle smile or a heartfelt hug has far more power than the cleverest emoticon. Please be aware of the other person’s situation or needs if you are tagging or mentioning someone, or a company, or a site on social media groups. If in doubt, get their permission first, or wait 24 hours and see if you still want to type and send that message.
Do you have any tips to communicate more effectively? Share with us below.
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