Alicia de Barry: Mobile phones and instant internet access have affected our communication

Posted on April 6, 2016

I miss the days before mobile phones and instant internet access. No, no, hear me out (pun intended!).

I cannot deny that the invention of the mobile phone, especially texting, and the internet, especially online chat, has changed my life for the better.

Instead of talking awkwardly on the phone, asking the person to repeat themselves and then giving up and pretending I have heard everything, I can just read the text.

If I have to talk to an insurance, phone, or education establishment, I find more often than not they have chat online.

The last time I used a chat service was with a phone company, my enquiry normally meant that I would have to speak on the phone, but after explaining my predicament they sorted the whole issue out for me via online chat.

Such a small gesture means so much to people like me; it means I have my independence and control.

However, there is something that has been bugging me, and has been for a few years now.

Technological advances have indeed improved mine, and possibly your life, but they have definitely brought some downsides.

One such downside is that it has affected our communication.

I depend on lip-reading to understand, and take part in a conversation. It is a well-known fact amongst my family and friends that if I ain’t looking at you, then I ain’t listening.

It takes effort, concentration, and to a certain extent stamina to be able to spend all day lip-reading a person, so my qualm with using technology is this.

If I put the effort in to make sure I am listening to someone, then I would really appreciate it if the person I am talking to could tear themselves away from their phone for five minutes.

There is nothing worse than talking to someone whilst they stare intently at their phone and interject with “mm-hmm”, “yep, yep, yep” whilst liking someone’s Facebook status.

I work in a secondary school, and I have done for the last three years, this is something that I have noticed becoming more and more common amongst the younger generation.

An interesting article in the Deseret News explores the theory that whilst there are definitely some advantages, face-to-face communication is being affected negatively by the ever increasing use of technology.

For example, one negative finding is that the younger generation are finding it harder to read emotion, or create strong relationships.

I cannot comment on that, but I can say that when I ask them to look at me whilst they are talking some of them only turn their heads, but do not meet my eyes.

I understand that some students may be shy, but too big a number of them are struggling to look at me when talking to, or with, me.

And another thing that has been bugging me. The constant use of earphones! Some of the students like to listen to music whilst doing work. I have no problem with this (even though research suggests that revising whilst listening to music hinders rather than helps) but, keeping an earphone in whilst having a conversation, not just with me, but their friends as well, comes across as a bit disrespectful.

I am being rather unfair though. This phenomenon is not restricted to the next generation. Our generation is just as guilty.

Many a time have I gone to a friend’s house for a cup of tea, or I have gone out for dinner with them and the first thing they do is take their phone out. It has gotten to the point where I think that I may just as well as not bother. They also stare at their phones whilst I am talking, or talk to me whilst looking at their phones.

But, I am trying to combat this. I simply stop talking and wait until they are no longer engrossed in the seemingly amazing article, or status that they are reading.

Even when they look up and say “I’m listening.” I reply with “I will wait until you are finished.” I do wait, they don’t expect me to and continue using their phone, but I will not continue talking.

This then results in a growing uncomfortable silence until they eventually give up and give me their whole attention, and I respond by giving them my whole attention through lip-reading and just generally enjoying their company.

I have noticed that slowly, but surely, my friends and family are not immediately reaching for their phone when I converse with them. They’ll have their phone in their hand or pocket, but they are beginning to understand and even emphasise with me.

Yeah, phones are good, but sometimes I miss the good old days.

Alicia is 70% deaf and wears hearing aids. She comes from Milton Keynes and lives with her husband who is hearing, and her cat, Mickey. She works in a study centre with Six Formers and loves it. She has an MA in English Literature which she says “is great because I I love books, books, books, and Earl Grey tea.”

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