I teach Psychology at a Community College. As a Professor, I try to incorporate a variety of techniques in the hopes I might have my students retain the information from my course. I try to “connect” the topics I need to cover to events which are relative to my students, such as everyday typical scenarios. If a topic has meaning or is relevant to you, you are more likely to remember it. In my classes, I often do this by relating current news stories.

We are constantly connecting, not only to other people, but to everyday situations in our environment. How often do we quickly scroll through the news and either delete or swipe to get to the next article of interest?  We are living in a world of digital and sensory overload, where too much information is at our fingertips so we choose to quickly glance, if even that. Beneath the mounds of information are many articles which relate to us every single day, but we often don’t have the time or desire to stop and look.

In this article, I want to connect some of our daily habits to current events and show they relate to us, our missed connections.

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A few months ago the New York Times published an article about cell phones and manners titled “Keep Your Heads Up: How Smartphone Addiction Kills Manners and Moods.” The author discusses how cell phone use has an effect on both our physical and emotional health, ranging from the constant pressure placed on one’s neck from the weight of our head looking down to read our texts and the lack of empathy occurring as so many face to face connections are lost. The connection to the socio-emotional development of children and teens or from the biological aspect of addiction is not hard to miss. Do you check your phone for missed texts as soon as you get up? Does this seem similar to a smoker who lights up the first chance they get?  There is a lot more to this article then the aspects of development. How often in a face to face conversation does the person you are speaking with look down to their cell phone?  Nothing makes you feel more important than someone looking at their phone to see what else is happening. Do you wonder if the person you are with is actually engaged or is only physically present?

Consider the perspective from that of a child.  Children are competing for time ...not with another person, but the cellphone of their caregiver/parent. Recently, a news story went viral when an elementary age child wrote “what he wished for was his parent without a phone.” We are social beings and our lifestyles are too often replaced by technology.

Studies from the University of Michigan talk about a lack of empathy in college students.  Is lack of empathy a side effect of having grown up on technology, and if so, has their social and emotional development been stunted, or forever altered, due to the lack of interpersonal relationships.  We know our moods are affected by our devices, especially our cell phones. When you are expecting a text which doesn’t come, what you see or don’t see on social media, all can affect your mood as can the simple lack of connectivity to other people. Think about the effect of a simple text… have you ever misconstrued a meaning?  What is lost in translation?

When we text, the visual aspect (facial expressions), the tone of voice (sincerity or sarcasm), the scent or smell which activates your memory to help interpret the situation are often missing. When our senses are no longer involved in interpreting the meaning something really is missing and it is often the intended meaning.  How we interpret the message often depends on the delivery. When the delivery is in black and white it might appear harsher than it actually is.

Most adults have had many years practicing interpersonal skills, however, today’s generation does not have the same opportunities.  Kids often lack the skills gained from face to face interactions, such as reading facial expression and perceiving social cues. Is technology affecting the socio-emotional development of kids, or is the fact that so many both young and old alike are absorbed in their devices we cannot see the forest through the trees?  Are the levels of empathy truly declining or can we develop an understanding of empathy and manners in today cultural environment? Is bullying on social media related to a lack of empathy in college students or are we entering an era of narcissism? Let’s put down our phones and talk about it.

Lisa Smith, M.A. DEVM, Teachers College-Columbia University, is an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Union County College and an Educational Consultant, specializing in study skills. She can be reached at Ljs2198@TC.Columbia.edu.