About Technology

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By: Elisah Van Vriesland

With the integration of wireless Internet on such devices as the iPhone, Blackberry and Google’s Android phone, the past few years have seen an emerging phenomenon of 24/7 connectivity. However, research suggests those who choose to correspond via email, text messages or social networks are prone to health problems and diminished professionalism, as a rush to get a message across supersedes the need for human interaction. The key is to decipher in what circumstances technological advances are necessary and in which we’re better off without them.

Short Text, Long History:

Though the phrase ‘text me’ is now part of the lexicon of modern life, Short Message Service (SMS) actually languished in technological obscurity for more than a decade after the concept was initially developed in the early 1980’s. It was not until 1992 that the first SMS was sent over a UK network and only by the end of 2000 did SMS texts become a regular commercial feature for the majority of contracted users. As SMS quickly became an ever more relevant method of communication with the average Joe, entrepreneurs and professionals were presented with a toy of their own, the Blackberry. Combining the latest mobile phone with a hand held computer, the blackberry gave workaholics access to their emails, office networks and documents, and made it possible to conduct business from anywhere.

Health Risk:

A disturbing side effect of this increasing connectivity has been its effect on face-to-face interaction. It has now become possible to complete your commute without looking at another human being, or attend a dinner party having had fifteen simultaneous conversations with friends who were not actually there. Professor Gayle Porter of Rutgers University led research that signified the health risks of such behaviour, outlining that 'addiction to technology can be as equally damaging [as chemical or substance addictions] to a worker's mental health'.

Talkers vs. Texters:

Brand new mobile phones that include a plethora of socially interactive technologies may also be contributing to the higher levels of anxiety and depression amongst teenagers and young adults. In research conducted at the University of Plymouth, Reid & Reid (2004) split an experimental group into ‘talkers’ or ‘texters’ based on a qualitative analysis. They discovered that although the majority of both texters and talkers preferred face-to-face communication, over a quarter of the texters preferred texting – 4 times the number of talkers who preferred texting. Texters were also found to be more socially anxious and lonely than the talkers.

Embellish vs. Displace:

"Social networking sites should allow us to embellish our social lives, but what we find is very different. The tail is wagging the dog. These are not tools that enhance, they are tools that displace." Dr. Aric Sigman, a biologist, has warned that a lack of human interaction paralleled with innovations in technology could result in a range of health problems, such as upset immune responses, altered hormone levels, malfunction of arteries and a decrease in mental performance.

In the BBC article, Dr. Sigman also cited research in which face-to-face interaction has fallen dramatically since 1987, signifying that modern technologies are hindering the way we interact with other human beings. Advancements in technology should enhance rather than diminish our social lives.

Ease of access vs. Professionalism:

The appeal of email and instant messaging still boasts an obvious answer - It’s free and it’s instant. To avoid busy signals and high phone bills, the internet provides a more cost-effective way to interact with workmates, clients and within a personal context. However, these mediums simply cannot replace real phone conversations or face-to-face meetings in the workplace. A poll on Edutopia has also expressed the concern of social media within an educational environment: "As more and more students immerse themselves in Textspeak over their cell phones and computers, educators worry that their writing skills are suffering. [...] There is concern that students who frequently express themselves in abbreviations and smiley faces may lose the capacity for more nuanced, grammatically correct writing."

Put simply, a level of formality is needed to gain trust in all three businesses, educational establishments and in individuals. Where businesses cut corners on formal conversations, carelessness in quick correspondence could hinder progress in both our social and professional lives.

http://www.edutopia.org, http://www.bbc.co.uk/, http://www.plymouth.ac.uk/, http://www.rutgers.edu/

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