In her book “Reclaiming Conversation,” Turkle explains that electronic devices (particularly among school age children) are destroying the ability to empathize, and to engage in meaningful self-reflection.
(1) Not engaging in the rapport building activity of looking people in the eye (Achor, 2010); (2) sending messages without having to do the difficult work of constructing the finished product (so that it will incur a positive reception); (3) not having to see the impact of poorly chosen words (or claim responsibility when communication goes awry) does not character build. Turkle suggests our current Internet based modus operandi clearly has its place, but when used as the primary mode of two way interaction can destroy human discourse.
We can now engage in what was unimaginable only a few decades prior – indiscriminate posting of whatever’s on our minds in a public forum read by billions worldwide that’s broadcast 24/7 – in a space where anonymous posters experience zero repercussions. Internet trollers are blocked from seeing the pain and anguish that can occur on the receiving end. In her article “How to get people off their phones in meetings without being a jerk,” Hedges notes that in response to the siren song of cell phone attraction, some companies require workers to “check” their phones prior to meetings.
In a similar vein, Shayne Hughes banned internal company e-mails for one week due to their usage as a sham conflict resolution tool, and a subsequent time waster. Internal e-mail was eliminated because workers weren’t speaking with one another. Instead of simply walking toward someone’s office, they instead fired off an e-mail – a stylistic mode stripped of the embellishment of verbal intonation, facial expression, and ocular inflection. There is currently an entire generation of individuals who think that texting is the norm, and some people who think that it’s “OK” to slam other persons on a ubiquitous electronic billboard.
Experiential exercises which show people how comments in this medium can cut to the core could be instructive to strengthen our “empathy muscle,” and to create awareness. We must establish a social intelligence that demonstrates we’re living in a dynamic, interconnected metaverse in which online behavior has a cascading effect. If the flap of a butterfly wing can create a tidal wave across the world, then surely our two dimensional electronic chatter has the potential to wreak havoc on a global frontier.