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Lane: Communication suffers in the Snapchat generation

BY JOE LANE | SEPTEMBER 12, 2014 5:00 AM

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Last weekend, a friend of mine was having trouble getting a text message to send. After several minutes of unsuccessfully trying to fix the problem, he gave up and reluctantly said, “I guess I’ll just have to call him.” This sigh-inducing scenario is one that I have become all too familiar with in the past few years.

My generation, millennials, in their late teens and early 20s in particular, have grown up in a communication society entirely different from that of their parents or even their older millennial counterparts.

Lauren-Ashley Buchanan, a UI graduate student who studies interpersonal communication and how relationships are initiated and maintained through computer-mediated communication, argues that for kids born in the ’90s, “face-to-face communication can feel a bit more awkward than it would for earlier millennials.”

That’s a problem.

Kids my age have been growing up with emails instead of handwritten letters, text messages instead of phone calls, and snap chats instead of face-to-face conversations. So while we may be the most technologically proficient generation ever, we are also the least capable of handling simple in-person communication.

As Buchanan puts it, “There is something to be said about not being as comfortable in the natural state of communication.”

While those of us born in the ’90s may vaguely remember communicating with a wired landline or by writing a letter to our grandparents, we may be the last generation that does remember this form of communication. In fact, I find myself slightly bewildered by the process of mailing a letter; email just seems like an easier and quicker alternative.

“[Especially in] Western culture, we’re very tied to time, so we’re really into multitasking, being on time, not interrupting others or being interrupted by others,” Buchanan argues. “The [new] technology allows us to be in constant communication with each other without inconveniencing ourselves.”

While it is excellent that we are able to better maintain relationships by being in constant contact, perhaps the relationships we are maintaining are not as strong as they might have been a few decades ago. With the advent of technology that allows us to be in constant contact with one another, our communication becomes more surface level and so, too, do our relationships.

There is another problem with these new forms of communication, however. This is an even bigger problem for my generation as we prepare to enter the work force.

With more casual forms of communication, such as texting, conversation itself has become increasingly less formal. Although this is not a huge issue when you’re checking in on a friend or sending your parents a quick update on how your week has been going, it becomes a big problem when respect for power structures becomes casual as well.

When it comes to power structures, “an email or text you send to a friend tends to look the same — depending on the generation you’re in — as an email you send to your professor or someone professionally; the lines are being blurred,” Buchanan says.

The issue is that as we move further into the Snapchat generation, interpersonal skills and strong relationships start to fade away. Although they may never be gone completely, I fear for the day that “talking” falls under special skills on résumés across the country.


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