Do smartphones really hinder our communication to one another?

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| January 18, 2014

All I have ever really known is communication via cell phone. The last time I was completely cell phone free was 7th grade, which would have made me 13 years old. For ten years, I have had a cell phone with me almost always. It is my preferred method of communication amongst friends, whether it's through texting, social networking, or sometimes even calling people. 

For a while, I never really thought anything of it. Most, if not all of my friends had a cell phone by the time we entered high school. Until I had a number of adults in my life confront me about my excessive use of a cell phone I never really thought it was strange or odd to use one like I did. My mother would ask me why I wasn't outside with my friends on such a lovely day, or my aunts and uncles would wonder why my cousins and I had them out so often during the holidays. Both scenarios would inevitably turn into a nostalgic conversation about the good ol' days where kids would go outside and talk to each other face-to-face, or how the best way to meet new people is to actually go out in the world in a public setting and talk. Instead of just ignoring them like you might expect an unruly teenager to do, it actually prompted me to do some thinking.

To people who weren't introduced to it until they were older, it might seem like an odd concept to have your closest network of friends constantly at your fingertips. At a moment's notice, you could check in on somebody and hold a conversation. You could set up a coffee or lunch date, arrange to see a movie or meet up at the mall, or just hold a conversation about... well, anything. It was very similar to how things were back when cell phones were non-existant. The only difference is that instead of having to go through a landline, where the friend may or may not even be home, you always have a way of contacting them. I'm sure in some situations texting so often might make a person socially awkward or without much to say once people would physically meet up. On the other hand, I guess I can't say that I think that it completely hinders what is considered real communication amongst one another. In fact, I might be so bold as to say that in some ways texting has improved communication between people.

I've flip flopped how I feel about texting from time to time. Texting is not a perfect method of communication, but what is? On the one hand, it's hard to know when to end a conversation through text. Over the phone or in person, you signal the end of a conversation with a "good bye" and a departure or a hang-up. With texting, the option to respond whenever is so open that there is hardly ever an appropriate time to say "good bye" or anything of the sort. You can, but it looks and feels odd to do so. The closest thing might be a "good night" or to tell the other person that you're busy with something or other, because you feel the need to justify why you've stopped texting. 

On the other hand, it's been my experience that I can learn a lot about somebody through texting. People are generally a lot bolder through texting than they are in person. Why that is, I couldn't tell you. I know that I'm bolder over text because I actually have a moment to think about what I want to say, make revisions, and send the completed product. It gives you an actual visual of what you're trying to say. When I try to vocally say something, there's a lot higher chance that I'll make a mistake or say something that I wish I hadn't said. While this still happens with texting, it happens a lot less often.

As for the social aspect of the issue, I feel like the use of certain social networks (I'm part of the old fuddy duddy group whose friends use Facebook) make it easier to suggest or do group activities. Instead of phoning up 12 people and asking them how to do it, you can just send out a general invite at the click of the button. If somebody plans to attend (or not) it's been recorded. If not, it's not an issue. It's planning made simple. I guess one could argue that it's not as personal as older methods of event planning, but it is more productive.

It all depends on who you are and in what generation you grew up in. Technology can be annoying to deal with from time to time, but overall I don't think that they're actually hindering the communication we have between us. 

Readers, what are your thoughts on smartphones and communication? Do you think that smartphones hinder our communication with one another or do you think they've improved it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Images via Tumblr, Wbaltv