I spent an eye-opening couple of hours with my great aunt and uncle this past weekend. Amidst talk of family stories and recollections, we started talking about modern technology. When the conversation started, I was naturally typing away on my BlackBerry, but put my life on pause to hear what they had to say.

They are most baffled about how kids today are so fixated on using gadgets to keep in constant contact with a slew of friends and acquaintances, with whom they often share intimate and personal information. As a result of this modern phenomenon, my aunt and uncle feel that much of our generation has lost the ability (and desire) to deal with others on a one-on-one basis.

While I initially scoffed at their ideas, it did start me thinking about whether we have become too tied to our electronics. Is it possible that our generation’s technological gains and consequential technological dependency might adversely affects our interpersonal skills? Personally, I hardly take two steps without checking my BlackBerry, and I don’t think anyone would be able to make do without their own personalized technologies. Whether it’s an iCal, BlackBerry or Mac, on a campus as large as this one, technology certainly helps staff and students keep their scattered lives somewhat in order. But it’s interesting to think how our super-speed typing skills might hinder our conversational skills — and how all the ways we stay in touch might result in us losing that human touch.

After all, although we can submit job applications online, we inevitably have to confront the dreaded world of interviews alone and in person. This certainly doesn’t bode well for college-aged students (or anyone else, for that matter) whose people skills may be lacking due to their dependence on technology. But this doesn’t seem to be on the radars of most college students.

Older generations love to poke fun at our gadget-dependent lives, but they have a point. Cell phones and e-mail have always been a part of my life. I remember the moments when I got my first cell phone and e-mail address as vividly as I remember where I was when 9/11 happened — sad, but true. Throughout middle school and high school, I grew to love the convenience of making plans via text and submitting assignments online. Older generations may not have been spoiled with these same conveniences, but as a result, they were forced to pick up the phone and have one-on-one conversations far more often than we do today.

Because these technological and cultural changes occurred mainly within the past century, I also find it interesting to examine the Baby Boomer generation, better known as our parents. My mother and I have gotten in countless (and often pointless) arguments over her needing assistance with her new piece of technology. Anyone who’s seen a middle-aged man or woman awkwardly poking at a cell phone knows exactly what I mean. But while I find her technological incompetence embarrassing, I must admit she engages in far more personal contact as a result of her struggles. While I might Google an answer to a question, my mom seeks help from someone face-to-face — something she finds necessary and I, her BlackBerry-brainwashed daughter, will probably miss out on.

In addition to these specific generational discrepancies, I also found that even the rare times we do embrace personal interaction, our obsession with knowing everybody’s every move interferes. Our phones serve to fill the “awkward silences” unique to the 21st century. How are we expected to keep up a five minute conversation without the support of the six or seven people we’re conversing with simultaneously in cyber space? Now when somebody enters a room full of people, rather than attempting to strike up a conversation, he or she can seek refuge in cyberspace and remain fully engaged. I’m not sure this bodes well for the upcoming professional lives of today’s college students.

Obviously, I would still cry should anyone ask me to go without my electronics for a week. But there is something a real person can convey through a smile that an emoticon just can’t express. We should keep this in mind lest the technological mania leaves us lost in translation.

Leah Potkin can be reached at lpotkin@umich.edu.

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