The art of listening decreases with the rise of technology

By Emma Campbell

Elm Staff Writer

The digital age has done more than drain our bank accounts; it’s also crippled our ability to concentrate.

Communication does not rely on the newest iPhone model. Rather, it depends on an individual’s ability to voice thoughts and, in turn, listen to the ideas of others. In a culture full of liking, sharing, retweeting, and CC-ing, have human beings forgotten how to effectively communicate with each other?

There is certainly more than one culprit for this phenomenon — busier work environments, a spike in mental health issues, and poor diet and nutrition, to name a few.

But if one were to loom above the rest as the biggest and baddest, it would be social media. Platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter have drastically altered the ways in which people interact with each other, whether it be online or face-to-face.

Concentration and listening skills are essential to human communication. If we’re missing two pivotal bolts in this mechanical wheel, how are we meant to progress?

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Academy Award-winning actress Emma Thompson expressed her distaste for social media and its effect on the human experience. She did not hold back.

“I’d rather have root canal treatment for the rest of my life than join Twitter. That’s not my scene at all,” Thompson said. “God knows what it’s all doing to us. I hope that everyone does realize that we are all just one giant human experiment at the moment. We are just a great big bunch of little gerbils on wheels.”

The idea that those who partake in social media may be nothing more than a bunch of mindless rodents in a science experiment is sobering. To an extent, Thompson is right when she addresses the harmful impacts caused by these platforms.

However, perhaps social media’s addictive, dopamine-inducing effects can be overshadowed by all the good it does. Estranged loved ones have reconnected via Facebook, charities have used Instagram to raise awareness for their causes, and Twitter fosters communities for like-minded people who previously felt ignored.

Social media, like most things, is neither all good nor all bad. So, why should we be concerned?

As I write this, my phone is face-up on the desk beside me. Every time it dings and lights up — which occurs roughly every two minutes — my hand automatically reaches out to grab it, unlock it, and peruse whatever text message, email, or social media notification I’ve received.

I am not the only person with this bad habit. Our phones have become extensions of our bodies. With the whole world at our fingertips, it is no wonder we’re so enraptured.

Who in their right mind would want to concentrate on an uninterrupted task when they have a tantalizing pocket full of loud and colorful distractions?

In 2005, Dr. Glenn Wilson of London’s Institute of Psychiatry conducted an experiment which measured the effect digital distractions have on work environments, as reported by the Guardian in 2018. Subjects who were distracted by emails, text messages, and phone calls experienced an alarming 10-point drop in their IQ. Wilson concluded that constant digital interruptions can have the same biological effect as the loss of a night’s sleep.

These results are frightening. This plummet in concentration is a global health issue that should not be taken lightly. The only thing that guarantees immunity to distractions is the eradication of technology, but in the world we currently live in, this so-called solution is laughably implausible.

Perhaps the first step to re-gaining our ability to concentrate is to stop talking about who is to blame.

It is significant that Wilson’s targeted testing group was comprised of adults in work environments, given many baby boomers’ insistence that young people are culpable for the rapid growth of the digital world and, in turn, the loss of concentration.

Middle-aged members of society dote on their beloved techo-gadgets just as much as young people do, if not more so. Every suit-clad man and woman waiting in line at Starbucks is glued to their phone screen. My mom has a blast posting pictures of the family cat to her Instagram feed, and my dad loves sending paragraph-long texts to me and my sister. Our nation’s president is 73 and arguably publishes more embarrassing tweets per day than the average middle schooler does.

There isn’t one age group to blame for our loss of concentration. All of us are at fault.

Phones aren’t to be held responsible for a human’s inability to complete the simplest of tasks without opening Instagram or Snapchat. Handheld devices may be contributing to progress, but our unhealthy obsessions with them are inhibiting it.

If we cannot concentrate, how can we listen? And if we cannot listen, how can we move forward?

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