…One college junior tried to capture what is wrong about life in his generation. Our texts are fine, he said. Its what texting does to our conversations when we are together thats the problem.
Its a powerful insight. Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel. People keep the conversation on topics where they wont mind being interrupted. They dont feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.
Across generations, technology is implicated in this assault on empathy. Weve gotten used to being connected all the time, but we have found ways around conversation at least from conversation that is open-ended and spontaneous, in which we play with ideas and allow ourselves to be fully present and vulnerable. But it is in this type of conversation where we learn to make eye contact, to become aware of another persons posture and tone, to comfort one another and respectfully challenge one another that empathy and intimacy flourish. In these conversations, we learn who we are.