Texting in the Supermarket, and Other Horror Stories

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It seems that every time I talk to my opinionated (and brilliant) mother these days, she laments that our Internet culture and pervasive use of smartphones are changing human kind for the worse.  “Even in the supermarket people are texting!” she says.  “Can’t they choose their Greek yogurt or find the perfect avocado without sending a text?”

With Halloween looming, a blog on the doomsayers of social media’s affect on communications seemed apt.

Jason Feiffer of Fast Company’s piece on fear mongering and the Internet explores how people worry that the “Web is making us mad” and “Google is making us stupid.”  He says, “The doomsayers’ tale has a power that makes Silicon Valley’s little startup narratives seem quaint and self-centered. Their message is powerfully frightening: Technology isn’t just changing how we do things; it’s changing us.”

Feiffer, however, is on the other side of this narrative.  He posits that although change can be scary, our brains are built for it and we will persevere albeit changed, but unharmed.

At my recent “Say it Like You Mean it!” panel presentation (out today on YouTube for all to enjoy!) we discussed similar concerns. One audience member asked about the Internet culture shift and its affect on our millennial generation’s approach to communication.  Another asked whether eloquent communications skills are still valued and necessary (a question I recently explored in my blog, “Is Our Food For Thought Fast Food?”)

IMG_0846No doubt, we are living through a sociolinguistic transformation brought on by the ubiquitous Internet.  Not just a media culture shift (radio, TV, computer, iPhone), but also an Internet culture shift where the majority of us are web-connected, speak in text, and use hash tags and smiley faces to communicate.  And our millennials, our digital natives, are the experts at putting all of these new communications tools into practice.

But is our use of these new digital communications practices to the detriment of our brains?  Does the dystopian view have a foothold in the idea that we are compromising our abilities to communicate both orally and in the written word?

As a communications consultant who worked with IBM on the launch of the Internet, AT&T on the first video-phone and Sierra Online on the first intimate online conversations and games, I personally find this all fascinating.  The intersection of communications and social media is a big piece of why this blog exists.

I turned back to my mother…

“All in moderation,” she said.  And I think these words of wisdom hold especially true here.

Put away your smartphone and take the risk of choosing the finest avocado from the supermarket pile without “phoning a friend.” But surely keep your camera-equipped smartphone handy and your Instagram app at-the-ready as you wander the pumpkin patch.

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BOO!

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