In today’s age of information, ICT’s (information and communications technology) play a large role in our culture, at least in the way that we communicate with one another through such means as email’s, cell phones, text messaging, and social media, and as a result, we are ostensibly a much more connected people on a global level. This fact is reflected in such places as Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook profile, which notes the companies mission statement as, “Making the world more open and connected.” That being said, have such technological advancements truly made us a much more open and connected society, or, rather, has it to a certain extent allowed for the regression in the way that people communicate with one another? According to various studies in circulation, such as Emily Drago’s scholarly article entitled, “The Effect of Technology on Face-to-Face Communication,” through the department of strategic communications at Elon University suggest otherwise. In summary, the premises of these types of argumentations are that ICT’s as a whole have a negative impact on face-to-face communication, are lacking in vital aspects of human communication, such as that of tone, non-verbal communication such as body language and facial expressions, context, or any sort of authentic human connection for that matter, and even more concerning, is the fact that ICT’s have also shown an negative impact on our capacity for critical thinking and cognitive abilities. But, this isn’t entirely surprising, when considering that while humankind is a highly social species, so too is it one that favors the luxury of convenience. On a rudimentary level, it is crucial that humankind is cautious of it’s dependency on ICT’s as it progresses further into an era marked by technology, considering that it is a menial form of communication as is demonstrated in it’s unfavorable impact on both face-to-face communications and critical thinking abilities, in addition to the fact that it is deficient in various qualities that are essential to human communication.
In her article entitled, “The Effect of Technology on Face-to-Face Communication,” Emily Drago notes in her abstract that, “Technology has a negative impact on both quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. Despite awareness of this fact, more than 62 percent of individuals continue to use their technological devices in the presence of others” (Drago 2). Essentially, Drago’s study illustrates the sad reality of our dependence on ICT’s, in that it is becoming socially acceptable, at least to a certain extent, to be on these devices while we should be interacting with the people that we should be giving our undivided attention to. Furthermore, it articulates how, while society may be becoming a more connected place on a global level as a direct consequence of these devices, that we are becoming more detached from the individuals who actually matter in our lives, and that we are losing are need for basic human interaction, as if reaching out through an illuminated screen could ever make up for it. This bleak truth is painstakingly evident if one so chooses to be a participant-observer of the individuals that they encounter on a day-to-day basis. In the academic setting, it is seen in the way that students get together for their various projects, but remain attached to their mobile devices, in an attempt to keep up with all the messages that they receive throughout the day. Or, if one stops, and is conscious of their surroundings while dining in at any restaurant, it is also apparent in the couples on their dates, both of whom are glued on their cell-phones, and so depriving themselves of the intimacy that they could have if they would have just put them away. Most unsettling, however, is that this fact also hits at home, as the family attempts to get together for family bonding time, but that turns into dad working on the computer, mom going through the newsfeed on her Facebook on her tablet, and so on, rather than enjoying one another’s company. This is, in essence, becoming a large part of our culture, and it is disappointing, in that in plugging in and becoming more connected to the world, we are becoming out of tune and disconnected with each other. While the evidence supporting how we are losing quality and quantity of face-to-face communications is reason enough to be cautious of this medium of communication, the stipulations that it affects critical and cognitive thinking abilities further bolsters the argument.
When discussing the effects of ICT’s on individuals critical and cognitive thinking abilities, M.A.Nicholas Carr of the University of Harvard, notes in his academic article entitled, “What is the Internet doing to People’s Brains,” that, “The intellectual technologies it (the internet) has pioneer promote the speedy, superficial skimming of information and discourage any deep, prolonged engagement with a single argument, idea, or narrative (Carr 34). Carr is not alone in expressing these concerns, as Herman Maurer of the Association of Computing Machinery comments in his article, “Does the Internet Make us Stupid,” how, “ICT’s are indeed reducing many of our cognitive faculties…I’m particularly worried by the evidence that I’ve collected, which shows that reading with understanding and creative writing is markedly reduced in students who use ICT’s intensively and that concentrated thinking and attention spans appear to have been reduced” (Maurer). Fundamentally, both Carr and Maurer’s research suggests serious implications pertaining to the utilization of ICT’s in today’s modern culture, in that it is a horrifying notion to think that it is reducing individuals critical thinking capacities; a very harsh reality when considering that we maintain that this is an age of information, as one can find virtually anything at the touch of their fingertips. This type of argumentation brings up very valid points, in that today’s society, particularly as is seen in today’s youth, so commonly mistakes learning as googling, youtubing, or asking Siri about something, and does not require any type of complex thinking skills. But in all actuality, the only thing that is being learned is the ability to stare at a blank screen, hoping that you can mirror another’s behavior, and there is a tremendous difference in coming to obtain and acquire knowledge, as compared to vomiting up raw data as seen through a glowing box, in which the quality of the information is only as good as the validity of the source in which it was found. Furthermore, the findings of both Carr and Maurer hold serious ramifications regarding the philosophical field of epistemology or the study of how we come to know what we know. On the rationalist side of the argument, we learn through the operations of the mind, whereas empiricist maintains that we learn through experience. Thus, if using ICT’s reduces individual’s cognitive abilities, or, in other words, effects the operations of the mind, then how can we expect to apply said knowledge through experience? Although the idea that ICT’s act as an impediment on individual’s cognitive functions is ample reason to be wary in how society uses such devices, the fact that the means of communications allowed through them are more menial in terms of how we express ourselves further substantiates the point.
According to a recent Pew Research Center article entitled, “Global Communications: Texting and Social Networking Popular Worldwide,” “In more developed countries, such as the United States, which has the highest per capital GPD among the countries surveyed, texting and social networking act as a popular means of communication, with more than 75 percent of individuals saying that they prefer texting to phone calls, and fifty percent of individuals saying that they prefer social media.” Essentially, this study reveals how society is shifting towards one that prefers the convenience of communicating through brief messages that can be sent quickly; a fact that is further demonstrated in how we reduce conversation through these means to abbreviated words such as smh, which individuals use to express so much hate towards something they dislike. That being said, it is imperative that our culture is aware of this fact, due to how such methods of communication are arguably a lesser form of communication, in that they are deficient in certain qualities that are essential to human communication, namely that of tone, non-verbal communication, body language, facial expressions, context, and the like, and as a direct consequence can lead to miscommunication. In terms of breaking addictive habits such as smoking, drinking or the likes, psychologists note that it usually takes thirty days to make or break a habit, in which case, another behavior is usually recommended to replace the unwanted behavior. With this kept into consideration, in having this general preference in the way that society has chosen to adapt and learn to communicate with one another, the question of whether or not we are replacing these various qualities that are crucial to authentic relationships must be kept in mind.
It is imperative that society as a whole becomes more cautious of the ways we employ our ICT’s when considering that it has been observed that they are a menial form of communication that has had adverse effects both on face-to-face interactions, as well as the cognitive capacities of the human psyche. If such great minds as Aristotle, Socrates, Kant, or any other of notice were around today, one could argue that they would be greatly disillusioned by the fact that our society has created a tool which allows for us to almost literally have a whole world of information before us, only so that we could achieve to disconnect from each other while losing important characteristics of human interaction so that we can create meme’s about cat’s and football players, or to videotape our friends hanging out of the car while it is in motion for points on an application. In this way, Facebook failed in its mission statement, as with other companies associated with ICT’s, in that trying to connect us all, has only lead to the great disconnect. We as a species are only really capable of maintaining authentic relations with up to fifty people, not one, or five thousand plus. In this regards, it was Einstein who noted, “I fear the day that technology surpasses the need for human interaction,” and that day is almost, if not already here. So, now the question is, what are we as a society going to do about this fact?