Essay: Augusta Dean

We Have a Problem

We can all see that our world is continuing to move toward digital technology, perhaps at a more expedited rate than we are used to. As a child of the 90s, even I couldn't imagine having a television screen on the door of my refrigerator. Our fascination with digital technology has caused us to gravitate toward using, almost exclusively, digital communication.

Digital messaging has become much more efficient since email was created. By using other messaging means that can deliver information more-so directly to a person, people have more access to these new messaging services than they do email (you need less cell-service to receive a text message than an email). We have moved toward quick, easy digital communication with the creation of instant messaging (which seems to have lost its place in the communication world), text messaging, Facebook chatting, and the list could go on to include every messaging app we could install on our phones. Speaking of phones, I remember those. When I was growing up, the only means through which I was able to communicate with friends and relatives, aside from face-to-face visits or snail mail—both of which have become a cherished rarity—was through telephone conversation. Nowadays, pretty much everyone ten and older has their own cell phone or iPod on which they communicate digitally on a daily (and probably hourly) basis.

Our Safety at Stake

In this fast paced world that we've nurtured, digital communication is very convenient. There are times when it is easier and quicker to send a text message of whatever needs to be communicated than make a phone call. We love text messaging so much that many, dare I say most, of us use it as our primary means to communicate. We use text messaging for many kinds of communication, which is not always bad, but it can pose problems to our safety, especially considering the level of addiction that much of our population has to digital communication. Our safety is compromised every day we are on the road by people who text and drive, which has become a huge issue since our obsession with texting became so prominent. Though digital communication is useful and most of us love it, there are certain boundaries that each person should set in order to continue living and communicating safely. There are laws that have been made in attempt to curve the prominence of texting and driving; with the accident rate still being as high as it is, perhaps these laws are not harsh enough for many of the offenders.

The fact that we are becoming so addicted and dependent on this technology is not to be taken lightly. There are countless stories about texting and driving resulting in tragic car accident fatalities. According to textinganddrivingsafety.com, texting while driving causes almost 25% of all car accidents, 11 teen deaths per day, and is about 6 times more likely to cause a car accident than driving drunk. Those numbers are astronomical, and it is all thanks to the addiction that we have to these technologies. Many laws have been passed and statements have been made from family members of victims killed in these accidents in order to curve the use of digital communication while driving. Furthermore, many teens can name someone that they have known who has passed away in one of these accidents. Yet we still have this huge issue of not being able to wait even five minutes until we're finished driving to check that text message.

Technology is a commodity that we pay for, and it is our personal property. However, it is necessary for the government to create and enforce laws against technology and our use of it when it endangers others, such as texting while driving. Unfortunately, the use of technology while driving has created huge problems regarding the safety of those who text and drive and people around them. Laws should become more strict for our protection, whether violators of current laws or not. By widening the scope of prevention, such as making all phone use while operating a vehicle illegal, and enforcing harsher penalties for those who violate the law, the rate of accidents caused by phone use may be lowered.

Digital Technology in Our Relationships

Our recurring resort to text messaging can also cause problems in our relationships. Think of how many arguments have been started because it seemed like someone sending a text message had a negative tone in the message. I can think of instances when I was stunned to receive text messages from a person sitting in a room right next to me. The rooms were in such close proximity that the person could have spoken in a soft voice and I would have easily heard it and been able to answer.

How many parents grow more and more frustrated every day that they have to tell their child not to text while they are being spoken to or not to have their phone at the dinner table? We are so glued to our phones that we are pretty much doing away with real human interaction in order to spend more time on our devices. I don't mean to only subject children to this point either—Dr. Collier told a story earlier this semester about how he was speaking with a person who, mid-conversation, pulled their phone out of their pocket to check to see if they had any messages needing attention. The addiction to digital communication is becoming a problem in aspects of the lives of people a wide range of ages.

Susan Tardanico's article, “Is Social Media Sabotaging Real Communication?” found in Forbes, tells of a young girl who was away at college. Apparently, she and her mother used text messaging as a primary means of communication. One night after a day of catching up with her mom through texting, the girl committed suicide. It was later discovered that the girl had been quite depressed for a while, which her mother had no clue of because her daughter was able to disguise her emotions through the digital mask. Though it is possible to mask our emotions on the phone, it is much more difficult than doing so over text messaging or a similar digital communication method. It is so easy to send an emoticon of a smiley face or “lol” even if you are actually in despair. Digital messaging can be so convenient, and seemingly refreshing, partly because of its ability to cover up what humans are truly feeling. It can allow us to cover up things that we do not want to admit or feel. For example, when a friend invites you to a party or social gathering, it is much easier to decline through digital means than on the phone, much less in person. We often stutter or pause when we are nervous, which can be a dead give-away that we really don't have a reason not to go, rather we just don't want to attend. Of course, it is not feasible to blame the girl's death solely on technology alone. Yes, her symptoms were unseen in part because of the digital technology, but there were other factors at play as well. However, there is a chance that her feelings could have been detected had digital communication not been the only means of communication, perhaps preventing the eventual result. This is just one instance of where the dependence on digital communication has led to horrifying consequences.

Solutions

Our way of communicating will continue to suffer from these technological changes, and could potentially get even worse. Though this is the digital age, we should still place a very high value on human interaction. After all, that is what will keep our race thriving. We have become so glued to our digital technology that we have become almost antisocial in a sense. I will be the first to admit that I am more likely to send a text message than make a phone call to family or friends from home, which is four hours away from my current residence. With that behavior I have become disconnected from friends, family, and the world at large, and I can feel it. There is much less emotion and effort put into a text message opposed to a phone call, and even more so a face-to-face meeting. First and foremost, we need to preserve the types of communication that enrich our lives. Conversation benefits from being able to see the person communication is being had with smile. At the next level, smiles and laughs can be heard over the phone, but they are not as significant or memorable as in-person emotions. Digital communication allows us to convey emotion, but the recipient has no way of knowing whether that emotion is true or sincere. We, the human race, must step back from the less personal methods of communication and resort to digital communication only when other methods have been exhausted.

Would you write on a sticky note and hand it to a person who is in the same room as you, the next room over, or the same house instead of going to them and using your voice to converse with them? Text messaging is pretty much the same as writing on a sticky note and handing it to the person you wish to communicate with, though a sticky note is more tangible. Use your voice to speak with the person in the same vicinity as you; if they are not in the same area, place a phone call, leave a voice mail. Lets change the way we communicate with other people, especially when other people's and our own safety is at stake.