America’s Downfall

Is it politics – Democrats vs Republicans?  Right to Lifers vs Pro Lifers?

Maybe it’s our constant drive to go to war – to provide protection for all people in every country but one – the United States.

Perhaps it’s the 1% who wield the wealth and power of this once mighty nation against the 99% of the rest of us who are working hard, paying taxes and falling farther and farther behind.

Actually, it’s none of those things.

The downfall of America is the cell phone.  Huh?  The cell phone?  Really??

Really.

Start paying attention to what people are doing.  How many of them are talking to each other –   actually holding face-to-face conversations?  They may be standing right next to each other but they are texting, not talking.  Even in the business world, the age of face-to-face has been replaced by email and texts.  And a lot is lost in the medium.

Emails and texts may work when there is no issue to be resolved, no confusion to be cleared.  But email and texts don’t work when things go south.  Why?  These communication modes are known by linguists as lean  modes of communication.  You simply can’t convey all of the message in these media; for problems, issues or confusion, nothing beats the so-called “rich” mode of communication – a face-to-face.

When you are seated across a table from someone you can actually receive all of the message being sent including body language and tone.  How much of the message are you missing by reading it from a screen?  Albert Mehrabian spent a lifetime at  the University of California, Los Angeles  studying non-verbal communication.  His findings are surprising.

  • 7% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in the words that are spoken.
  • 38% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said).
  • 55% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in facial expression.

Most of us are missing 93% of the message being sent via text by friends, co-workers, lovers, even our children.

Which leads me back to the cell phone.

This miracle of technology makes it possible for us to get connected and stay connected every minute of every day.  And cell phones are everywhere and they are on all the time.

Like every other type of noise in our environment, Americans are being distracted from living their lives while endlessly talking about their lives to nameless, faceless entities on the other side of a computer screen.

But are those strangers actually there for us?  Can we hear each other?  If recent research is right the answer to both questions is no.

In fact, psychologist, MIT professor and author Sherry Turkle says the compulsive attention people pay to their mobile devices is becoming a trend that should concern us.  Turkle, in her new book, Alone Together, suggests that the time is ripe to rethink how we use cutting-edge technology.

“There is a real state of confusion about whether or not we have each other’s attention in our always-on connectivity culture,” says Turkle, the Abby Rockefeller Mauze Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology, in MIT’s Program in Science, Technology and Society. “Families fight over this issue. It’s time for a correction, because we still have a chance to change things.”

In her first TED Talk since 1996, Turkle makes a solid case for putting down the cell phone, iPhone, Blackberry, iPad and reacquainting ourselves with our loved ones, our business associates and our friends.  And she offers some solid tips for making it happen.

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