Is Social Media and Modern Technology Responsible for the Death of Conversation?

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Last year The Guardian published an interesting article about the “Death of Conversation”. It outlines the stance that humans now use headphones as avoidance techniques to escape conversation, and how many of us are now learning to make eye contact and text at the same time. The article also implies the dangers of how social media websites have developed a culture where there is no such thing as “too much information” about yourself.

The dangers aside from the obvious safety risks are clear; if you have posted you’re entire life on Facebook, then what is there to talk about with those you known online and physically? Baby’s first pictures are no longer shared between family and friends, but pop up on Facebook dashes and are ‘liked’ and commented upon; the couple of hours old human being is already introduced to the internet even before they have had their first bowel movement.

Conversations awkwardly turn into:

Person 1: Hey, did you see my update on Twitter?

Person 2: Yeah, I re-Tweeted it.

Person 1: Did you see the pictures?

Person 2: Yeah. Did you have a good time?

Person 2: Enough to post them.

And how often have you heard or even been told yourself to “put down that phone”, or “don’t text while you’re talking”?

Then there is the repeated use of “likes” and comments which turn statuses and deep meaningful thoughts like; “I just brought another can of Pepsi for £2, rip off” into a popularity and/or pity party about First World Problems. Mentioning “problems”, does anyone actually believe that their “likes” for the various campaign videos and viral media (the most memorable one being KONY 2012: Invisible Children) help anyone? The fact that someone can sit at home and “like”/repost a sliver of marketing, then feel like they have done a helpful and meaningful act for those who need aid/protection/awareness, is deeply unsettling.

And then there is the trend of popularity measured on how many friends one has, and even if it isn’t seen as a competition anymore, there are still those people added after a one off meeting, and someone asking the fatal “do you have Facebook/Twitter?”

A very interesting book How Many Friends Does One Person Need? Dunbar’s Number and Other Evolutionary Quirks by Robin Dunbar has a range of essays regarding human interactions with modern technology and our evolution. Dunbar came up with a number; 150. That is to say that a human being can cope with around 150 friends only, this is due to the tribal state of our evolution. Dunbar’s number is very particular because anything above this number is about the point where the stable and cohesive relationships and interpersonal skills of each individual break down.

Can you honestly say that you know every person on your Facebook account in the same way that you know those you live and work with, or that you pay attention to every single update, or just those that concern your activities?

If the answer is no, then that is the breakdown where your long-term memory has broken down and the community you have mistakenly believed you are a part of has no incentive to remain together. This is why it is so easy to block, delete or ignore those deemed “unimportant” on your social media dash.

On a positive note many consider the ease in which deleting or blocking a “friend” to be a good thing, sparing the individual any thoughts of wrong doing and guilty feelings because, well, everyone does it, right?

Social media platforms also open up users to minute-by-minute news updates since news cooperation’s have begun utilising Twitter and Facebook accounts, the very fact that users can also share these stories means there is an instant and free service to spread news. There is the duel pro and con that the internet and services an individual can (and will be) altered to suit their needs. This includes political and cultural views which can give individuals a very bias view and expectation of the world. However the very fact that they can excess a global network, check facts, figures and ultimately interact with knowledge is always going to be one of the biggest advantages of modern technology and a portal for conversation.

The reality that this knowledge is so readily available and forums and websites dedicated to almost any subject can be found with just the knowledge of how to use Google and a keyboard also makes conversation with likeminded individuals all over the world now possible.

For artists, particularly writers, Twitter and Facebook can become a great tool to circulate snippets of their work or mini-stories confided to 140 characters. Ernest Hemingway would be proud, after all his best work being just 6 words; exactly 33 characters long; “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” All it takes is one share in the right place and even small works of art and craft can become everyone’s talking point; here’s looking at you 50 Shades of Grey, a trilogy that begun its life of Fanficiton.Net as a Twilight fanfiction but thanks to Amazon Kindle it has become something of a inescapable force.

Is it that these various forms of technology are killing conversation, or is it that they are simply killing off small talk instead? No longer do we have to ask about the weather; it is at the tips of our fingers 24/7. It isn’t necessary to ask how the family is because we already know. Instead we can focus on if our loved ones have been posting distressing messages about feeling sad, or talk about the newest movie/book/comic out of mutual and publicly known interests.

All in all, there is a lot of evidence proving the fact that yes, social media and the modern technology that comes with it is altering our behaviours, but it will only kill conversation if you let it. After all, there are now various forms for communication; it is just about how each individual utilises those platforms, including their own voice.

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