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How mobile phones are killing human interaction skills

Mobile addiction replacing nuances of conversation with messages and emojis

Image Credit: Supplied
Gulf News

Dubai: The sight of people being fully-engaged in a conversation whether over lunch, coffee, or at a party — with the absence of a mobile phone in their hands — is one that has become alarmingly scarce.

The beauty of receiving an individual’s full undivided attention during a conversation, discussion, debate or even a gossip session is unfortunately continuously being threatened.

As more people slip into the addiction of checking their phones every few minutes, and becoming highly proficient in the world of messages and emojis- many are slowly dwindling their human interaction skills at the same time.

So, the effects of constant communication through a screen leads us to ask the questions: Are we losing the art of interpersonal interaction? Is communicating through text altering the way relationships are conducted?

Dr Tara Wyne, Clinical Psychologist & Clinical Director at Lighthouse Arabia believes that being overly reliant on phone communication and emojis can affect a person’s ability to pick up on signals and expressions in a face-to face conversation.

 If this phone obsession goes unchecked, in the long term, our children won’t develop the art of subtle, patient, multidimensional appropriate communication.”

 - Dr Tara Wyne| Clinical psychologist 


“It shouldn’t affect our ability to read someone’s emotions necessarily, but it can affect our picking up on cues that would normally alert us that something is occurring between us and another,” she said.

Dr Wyne explained that people are so used to looking at their phones and devices so often that more have become fidgety and distracted and often not looking directly at others.

“They tend to gaze at people’s faces less and miss subtle cues from people such as a rolling of the eyes in frustration or someone closing their eyelids that bit longer because they are tired or more shut down and withdrawn,” she said.

Simple signs like a slight tug up and down of someone’s mouth, can tell you so much, explained Dr Wyn, like “whether they are happy or sad or amused. We may miss the twitching muscles in someone’s jaw indicating tension or anger or a slight wrinkle of a nose in humour or disgust.”

Many may assume they are able to reflect their exact emotions through emojis, relying on the idea that emotions are as clear and one dimensional in real life as they are on phones.

However, what is often the case in real life between people is “that we have complex emotions such as amusement and irritation. We might be happy but also embarrassed,” which cannot be fully reflected through emojis, said Dr Wyne. This can intern cause people to lose their sensitive radar for the complex and mixed emotions people may experience at one time.

“When you send an emoji through text, it is all about what you are feeling and where you are in that moment. You don’t check in with the other person and whether it’s appropriate or whether they are receptive to your emotion as you would do in person,” said Dr Wyne.

She pointed out, that in a face-to face conversation, people often mirror others emotions, and share feelings based on another person’s emotional state and receptivity.

Meanwhile, reliance on text for communication may also affect our behaviour and potentially the reward and pleasure we get from direct face to face communication.

Dr Wyne explained that with text communication, everything happens at lightening speed and people don’t have to wait for reactions or to know how the other person feels or thinks.

“In real life, we often have to be patient and set up our interaction in a way that facilitates good communication, ie, the right setting, quiet, appropriate, having the person’s undivided attention, both people being in the right mood and space to communicate and then pacing the conversation right and ensuring you keep their attention,” she said.

Unfortunately, as this is effortful, many people who are reliant on text communication may lose the art and etiquette for in person communication- possibly showing signs of boredom and impatience.

“I feel text reliant communicators will give up on in person communication far quicker because it takes more skill and you have to take care of the other person and prime them for communication in a way that text doesn’t need,” said Dr Wyne.

She emphasised that ultimately, the trend of phone and text communication reliance is fundamentally altering the way relationships are conducted.

“People in relationships satisfied by phone connection and communication are actually damaging their attachment bonds with their loved ones. In person communication and interaction is by its nature mutual, reciprocal, unselfish, generous and full of connection and empathy,” explained Dr Wyne.

Pointing out that children are most in danger of developing life-long issues with social and interpersonal communication, Dr Wyne referred to the dopamine hit (pleasure) they get from enjoy their time on their phones, making it a behaviour they want to engage in non-stop.

“If this phone obsession goes unchecked, in the long term our children won’t develop the art of subtle, patient, multidimensional appropriate communication,” she added.

‘We are losing out on special moments with family and friends’

Evaluating the debate of in person communication vs text reliant communication, Farrukh Naeem, social media strategist and tech influencer based in Abu Dhabi, told Gulf News, this new trend has certainly affected time spent with others.

 Even though I am a heavy user of social media, I was shocked to see children in a park surrounded by trees, slides and swings sitting on a bench glued to their phones.”

 - Farrukh Naeem | Social media strategist 


“I can definitely say that we are losing out more and more on those special moments with our family and friends where we could be looking into each other’s eyes, walking hand in hand, soaking in the weather but we are busy texting and catching up on social media notifications.

He pointed out that the more we are busy communicating through a screen, the more affected out ability will be to have great in person conversation.

“I think emojis make it really easy for us to respond to people without having to weigh in our words and sentences. And with that ease may come a reluctance to take the time to be more expressive when one speaks and writes,” said Naeem.

However, he pointed out that for introverts like himself, who feel it is easier to communicate through writing or messaging than face to face dialogue, text communication might actually open up many doors.

“I don’t necessarily see social media use affecting human interaction negatively - so many conversations that I might not have had the chance to make face to face, I easily make using social media,” he said.

Naeem highlighted that with the presence of social media in our everyday life, people do meet less in person and interact more through technology.

“A quiet person like me can have more than 50,000 followers on social media including very meaningful and deep relationships that go beyond languages, cultures and geographical boundaries. On the flip side, with more local and global business connections and personal relationships online, many of us see less time available to be devoted to events requiring us to travel to places and meet and interact with people face to face,” he said.

The effects of our reliance on social media are increasing and at time are boarding addiction, he said.

Naeem explained it is getting harder for people to put their phones and devices aside and be in the moment with their loved ones.

“Being a heavy user of social media myself, I was shocked to see little children in a park with trees, slides and swings sitting on a bench glued to their phones. I think as families and communities, we need to create times and days where we consciously create gadget-free activities for our family and friends and re-engage face to face,” he said.

Is this you?

Characteristics an individual who excessively uses a phone to communicate may develop over time when in a social scenario:

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1) Feeling uncomfortable around people

2) Being clumsy at initiating conversations in person

3) Struggling with conversations where multiple people are present

4) Being uneasy with eye contact

5) Not picking up on social or emotional cues from others as quickly or appropriately

2

6) Getting bored

7) Being fidgety and constantly checking their phone

8) Being impatient with people if they are taking their time and speaking at length

1

9) Being more irritable if the person does not react immediately or as we expected

10) Feeling overwhelmed by the presence of people and wanting to be alone

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