The internet and the smartphone have given us an incredible revolution in communication that our ancestors could not have even imagined. We can now add the Apple smartwatch, given the star treatment by the BBC, to our array of gadgets. However, we are developing habits and modes of behaviour that are detrimental to our social and emotional needs - our face-to-face communication, our body language and the gestures we make while we talk. A study by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), identifies the non-verbal communication and its importance thus:
"Nonverbal communication, defined as communication without words, includes apparent behaviors such as facial expression, eye contact, and tone of voice, as well as less obvious messages such as posture and spatial distance between two or more people. The understanding of these kinds of nonverbal social cues is particularly important for social interaction because of the need to modify one's own behavior in response to the reactions of others. The capability to effectively process emotional cues is associated with many personal, social and academic outcomes. In addition, children who better understand emotional cues in a social environment may develop superior social skills and form more positive peer relationships"
Communicating through gadgetry skips this innate social need in all of us.
We are in danger of being enslaved by these communication tools, leading us down a path that is detrimental to our emotional and social wellbeing. Being so absorbed in our interaction with our gadgets to the exclusion of what is around us can't be good for us; not allowing our senses to engage with the world around us is depriving our brains from communion with the world. I have seen people so intent in their relationship with their gadgets that they ignore the needs of others, particularly their children.
The parent-child interaction is particularly important in the case of babies and toddlers. On numerous occasions, I have seen mothers so absorbed in their task of interacting with their smartphones that they totally ignore the child's plea to talk and interest them in what s/he is observing and thinking.
My wife and I sat in a bus shelter with a young boy (about3), his mother and a baby in a pram. She was speaking on her mobile; he wanted to be lifted onto the bench in the shelter and kept asking her, but she didn't even look at him. Eventually my wife lifted him onto the bench and when their bus came his mother pushed the pram onto the bus and he just followed her. She didn't speak a word to him. What is his relationship with her going to be like as he grows up! What effect will it have on the child's self-esteem?
It may be that these mothers are stressed coping with all the demands made on their time and feel that this is 'me time' and this is my way of relaxing. Perhaps they are forgetting that engaging positively with their children, rather than ignoring them, will bring its own rewards to them as well. Seeing the child smile or get excited about what is around them will help in relieving the stress and the tension the mother is experiencing.
Young people growing up with so many tools for digital communications are losing the ability to read emotions, which will reflect in their behaviour towards their very young children, who can only communicate through face-to-face interaction and emotional signals - crying, smiling, gesturing etc.
The UCLA scientists found that:
"sixth-graders who went five days without even glancing at a smartphone, television or other digital screen did substantially better at reading human emotions than sixth-graders from the same school who continued to spend hours each day looking at their electronic devices...the implications of the research are that people need more face-to-face interaction, and that even when people use digital media for social interaction, they're spending less time developing social skills and learning to read nonverbal cues...Social interaction is needed to develop skills in understanding the emotions of other people."
It is an irony that these tools of communication, if used excessively, will rob us of the ability to interact socially with other human being. Do we really need the Apple smartwatch!