Last year, Nielsen Research reported that teens, on the average, each send 1,742 text messages a month. Just few months later the number had grown to 2,272. That averages a more than 75 per day and growing. Think about that for a minute. At the same time, the National School Board Association estimated that middle and high school students spent an average of nine hours a week engaged in social networking. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when you add Twitter, email, IM, and more.
As a result, here’s an interesting concern that not many people have considered: All of this social activity is through a computer or mobile phone screen, and none of it is face-to-face.
The question is – is an entire generation losing the ability to read non-verbal cues? In my own case, I don’t think I could function without that ability. Communication research has long known that non-verbal cues (facial movements, body language, hand gestures, etc..) often mean far more than the words being said.
In my own experience I use non-verbal cues all the time for reading the temperature of a meeting, knowing what my wife REALLY wants, or making a pitch to a client. People with experience reading these non-verbal cues often make great managers and leaders, solve problems quickly, and get to the heart of an issue much faster. But then again, we were raised communicating with other faces, not with computer screens.
My advice? Take every opportunity you can to make younger people aware of the power of non-verbal cues. Rather than dismissing them as inconsiderate or rude, take a moment to teach them about the impact – and insight – that is communicated beyond words. It just might save them years of misunderstandings and frustration.
Should I end this with an emoticon? 🙂