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peter lindsay

Physics Teacher,


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Is modern communication going to produce a generation that doesn't understand body language or verbal expression?

I am a highschool teacher and a parent of three teenage boys. In the last 5 years the percentage of communicating they do with written language has increased enormously. Is this obsession with txt and facebook destroying their ability to express themselves without emoticons?frownyface


Closing Statement from peter lindsay

Many commenters share my concern and many see it as just a development of modern society.My main concern still lies with the age at which a child gets a phone. In my experience most have a phone by 12 years old. I worry that they move through adolescence into adulthood with insufficient verbal communication and written communication in single sentences. Maybe as parents we should encourage them to visit each other rather than Txt or facebook. Even if that means we have to drive then somewhere.

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    Aug 2 2012: Good question. I wonder how much is innate or learnt in the first few years before we get our hands on technology. Also there may still be plenty, albeit less face to face communication.

    I guess face to face will be somewhat stunted, but this will be complemented by some technology medium communication.
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    Aug 9 2012: As with most things, there are no simple answers to tough questions like this. On the one hand, the communications tools currently available are being used to the exclusion of more personal modes of communication. It seems that we are creating a generation with cultural Aspergers syndrome. Supporting that argument is the pervasive shallowness and brevity of communication, which these new tools promote and the contribution current technologies make to in-person aberrant behavior. Further, look around a restaurant next time you eat out and see how many people are staring at their mobile devices instead of the person across the table from them.

    On the other hand, there is an increased cultural sensitivity to and appreciation for people who are different from each other (some notable exceptions notwithstanding). At what other time in history could people from so many different cultures and points of view engage in civilized (and uncivilized) discussion about any topic (deep or shallow) imaginable? I believe this actually contributes to better in-person relationship building and allows people, who may not have the best situational awareness in "live" interactions to receive more tolerance from those more sensitized and engaged.

    Will the young of today be able to "read" body language, tone of voice, and general demeanor as well as their predecessors? Only time will tell, and the unpredictable lurches of technological advancement will further complicate the picture. There are just too many variables to predict what communications and relationships will look like in even 20 years. Stay tuned! Exciting stuff!
  • Aug 2 2012: Don't be so "generation thinking". It's not like a generation can be better or worse than the previous or the next. (by the way plz forget my poor english).
    Human brain is evolving the same way for everybody, understanding his world before he can take control of it. The world change, so the generations do...
    A new generation can't be better, it can just fit more in the world of today than in the world of 20 years ago. Simple. So if you want to change the generation, maybe you should before change the world.
    Have a nice day :)
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      Aug 3 2012: I don't mean to pick on the youth of today, I just feel an adolescence spent txting and facebooking won't prepare them for important moments in later life that need to be done face to face.
      • Aug 3 2012: That IS what i mean.
        You think the important moments in life must be done like what happened to you...but even if it is very human to think so, it is not absolutely true.
        I have spent 1/2 of my life in front of a computer screen and I can say with certitude that I lived important moments this way.
        Of course, i don't spend 100% of my life this way, but maybe the next generation will spend 80%...then 90...99% etc...
        Fortunately, we won't be here to say them "your life is not a life"...because as all obsolete component of a machine, we will be dead from a long time :)
        I am sure we all had parents who didn't completely understood the changes in our lives.
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      Aug 5 2012: The problem is the level of misunderstanding possible. Look at it this way, we've had the telephone for over 100 years but how many people propose marriage or inform someone of a death in the family over the phone. The big moments need to be done face to face so there is no chance of misunderstanding. The ideal preparation for this would be to practice face to face on some of the smaller stuff first.
  • Aug 15 2012: We understand body language because it is hardwired into our brains since before language existed. Unless we all lived in individual steel boxes without visual contact to one another for thousands of years, i think we'll be okay.
  • Aug 15 2012: I think technological social mediums are a great step in the right direction, albeit a bunch of negatives, in that it has an intrinsic effect. Similarly we expressing our thoughts online, takes much thought in silence. Who's to say our minds aren't expanding in consciousness that may lead to psychic experiences.

    Thought is a powerful tool, an energy beyond comprehension. It's used all forms of mediums to relate itself, such as in sign language, verbal language, visual aids, art and technological mediums. It all began with 'thought'.

    Soon perhaps we won't require mediums of sort, but perhaps our inner ability that's expanding, for social interaction around the world. In other words our brains are wireless devices and finding the channels suitable for thought frequency transfer. Therefore we evolving through these mediums as preparation.

    So perhaps modern mankind will not cease speech but will develop its sixth sense towards telepathic communication especially for use accross the globe, and who knows perhaps even across the galaxy. We certainly planning these journeys and our current mediums for communication, to stay in touch, will simply not suffice.
    • Aug 15 2012: It's not often to see some who is bagging on this type of stuff and actually has a unique outlook on it. I don't know about "telepathic communication" but I think the "thought in silence" factor could have vast positive affects on our brains.
      • Aug 15 2012: Who would have thought Alexander Graham Bell's idea would some day work 'wirelessly'. Today we've achieved what once was a 'miracle' so to speak. The binary energy making this connection possible, operates as frequency.

        Thoughts are frequencies therefore often found that someone shared the same idea, somewhere distant. Is that coincidence or actual frequencies transmitted and received?
        Some cases we learn that someone utter what we thought at the same time or before we could. These are more than coincidences. Who knows thought might be traveling faster than the speed of light.
        • Aug 15 2012: If you were to say that then where does free will it in? Not only that but your opinion has tons of other fundamental problems. That opens up a whole new subject of discussion and brings this debate to somewhere it shouldn't go.
      • Aug 16 2012: Free will is an ability to choose. This essential ‘tool’ for improving our developments are earned through processes of logic analyzing any or every situation, which occurs with consciousness but translated via the brain. Free will develops the awareness. Therefore without it we are robots. Decisions are executed by logic, such as - if-else  - are based on percieved consequences. The conclusion reached, via reasoning, is significant for obtainable alternatives. As a result we, Mankind, have invented objects for convenience based on decisions, reasoning and alternatives - Why walk when we can fly, so to speak. 
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    Aug 10 2012: It is hard to unlearn behaviors that are part of our human nature. I don't think we will lose body language or verbal expression. What might be lost is all the non-verbal language associated with particular cultures (unless it's represented accurately by an emoticon, so the future generations will still wink perhaps). But all the body language associated with specific emotions should stay. On the plus side, it might be harder for people to lie as that surely must depend partly on feedback for perfectability.

    Interestingly, I've heard that people with aspergers syndrome are very well adapted to the online environment.
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      Aug 12 2012: I have experience with Asperger's kids in my classes. They actually find Txt and emoticons liberating as it evens out the playing field regarding trying to understand some one elses emotions.
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    Aug 6 2012: My experience with my grandchildren over the last few years has been that, yes, they send a large number of sms but that doesn't mean they communicate less face to face only that they communicate more in total. No sooner have they got on the school bus than they are sending sms to each other, posting on FB and generally staying in touch. I don't see how this can be harmful. The language they are developing is peculiar to the sms /FB and doesn't seem to impinge on their ability to speak or write normally in other forms of communication. I think it enriches their/our lives and I feel privileged to share this new language with them. As my middle granddaughter has written on her Skype profile: skwlz kwl - and how cool is that?
  • Aug 4 2012: The impact of modern communication devices (mobile, texting, twitter, facebook etc..) has to be seen as a continuum in the evolution of humans. The printing press did impact the way people interact, so did the telephone, all visual media have impacted human interactions, including the emotional part of the communication. Any new medium will take time to settle down and be part of the evolution, humans are bundles of emotions, they will find ways to express themselves, texting service well, started as texting and eventually the emoticons have come in, because humans have that innate desire to express themselves emotionally, also we need to understand that human's personal interactions i.e meeting face to face has increased many fold over the past 200 years, compared to the previous 5000 years, more interactions provide more options to adjust to emotional states of others, we cannot expect changes in human behavior in a span of 15 - 20 years, just like the printing press helped understand both body language and verbal expression, the modern communication devices will only help to take humans ability to understand and be understood well, hence I believe the modern communication options will not impact humans ability to understand body language.
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    Aug 4 2012: I think modern communications methods (texting, e-mails, SNS, etc.) have little influence on using and understanding body language and verbal expression. I feel this way because body language and verbal expression are part of human evolution. When people aren't communicating their smart phones for texting or making comments on facebook, they are more than likely to be engaging in face-to-face interactions with other people.

    However, now that we have so many methods for communicating, people have different preferences about which method they use. For example, I am currently living in Japan, and you hardly see a person not texting (sending e-mails) with their mobile phones. A television show conducted a survey and found that people in their 20's and younger prefer texting (e-mails) the most; in second was making a telephone call, and third was meeting in person. On the other hand, people 30 and above where the opposite: they preferred meeting in person, next was making a telephone call, and texting was last. This is the case in Japan, but I also noticed the same thing when I visited my home in Hawaii.

    In the beginning of my comment, I stated that modern communication as little influence on body language and verbal expression. I firmly believe this, but modern communication can be the root of social problems. In Japan, students in middle school and high school (maybe even primary school) create message boards online about their school. These sites are called "gakkou ura-saito" (underground school sites). On these sites, a lot of bad-mouthing of classmates goes on, which is one for of bullying in Japan. Unfortunately, the bullying sometimes escalates into a physical form and there have been cases where the victim of bullying commits suicide.

    Modern communication is a double-edged sword. It's extremely useful for keeping in touch with people and expanding one's network, but it can create social problems if used maliciously.
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    Aug 4 2012: Peter, I am not so sure that it is the ability to understand body language and verbal expression, but rather that they really do not care. They tend to express themselves in the rap, music (pick one), lady gaga, Madonna, T-shirts, piercing, etc ... When you say the % they do with written language ... are you refering to texting? Many of the upper level colleges have devised remedial courses to bring students reading grade level up so they can keep up in college. In the military we have a problem with comprehension and writting skills and have developed courses to offset the new officers lack of ability to communicate verbally and written.

    My grandpartents were worried about dancing and jitterbug, my parents worried about rock and roll, I worried about rap, acid rock, heavy metal, etc .... every generation has had a concern that their kids just do not get it. Each generations kids "get it" they just put it in a different wrapper.

    In school we have kids that excell and those you cannot lead to water let alone make them drink. The same thing happened in my generation and all the way back. With all the tools available in todays world change is just around the corner.

    Centuries ago the priests were the learned ones who wrote and read letters for all the communities. We continue to emphasize STEM when communications has deteriorated faster than all other subjects. Perhaps we will return to reling on priests.

    Texting takes the face away and terriable things are sent out. Kids fall in love and break up over the air waves. Guess I am old fashioned ... I like the smile, the laugh, the embrace, the tender kiss, the eye contact, and the sharing of togetherness. These things were personal and had great meaning. I do not see texting as being up close and personal. However, what I think is the "thought of a geezer" not one of them. LOL

    They will be just fine .... I will not understand them but thats ok. All the best. Bob.
  • Timo X

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    Aug 3 2012: The very same things were feared about telephones when they were first introduced. In actuality, quite the opposite is happening. The increasing amount of ways to engage in contact with another person creates a far more intricate communications etiquette. For example, people don't like to be called around diner time, people don't like it when relationships are broken via text messages, people don't like it when you spam their Facebook walls with games or advertisements, etc. The amount of social rules grows with the addition of each communication tool.

    EDIT: Pah, the telephone. Did you know that Sokrates detested writing? He was afraid that younger generations would no longer feel the need to really acquire knowledge when they could simply read it back. The fear of 'modern communication' and its supposed effects has a long history.

    Also, emoticons are a brilliant invention. You complain that the internet generation cannot express themselves properly without emoticons and that the result is that your witty sarcasm and jocular irony go unnoticed. Henry Denham suffered from that exact same problem and decided to invent a punctuation mark to clearly indicate his ironic remarks; the year was 1580. Now your complaint seems somewhat ironic, no?
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      Aug 4 2012: Timo, I loved this cogent point and it reminded me of something I once learned. Did you know that there has, in every era of great change been a debate about who actually has a soul? I saw it in our own era when people started to wonder and debate whether or not persons formed from cloning would have a soul. In the era of slavery of black persons in the USA and the world, there was a huge debate which arose with some persons convinced that such persons could not have souls! No souls- were they saying that the people were unworthy or that this negated their responsibilites toward them? I hope this has not diverged too far from the original topic.
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    Filip N

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    Aug 3 2012: Modern communication is in my opinion great way to make everyday life easier, faster and more relaxed. But there are also many problems regarding this matter. First, social networks should be there only for making contacts with people that we can't see in person. In that group of people should be: friends and relatives that don't live near, people of same interests and careers, people that can help each other with getting rid of bad habits and consolidate. Social networks can also help children/people that don't have very developed social skills in making friends and taking the pressure off of them. On the other hand, there is a very big security issue considering big corporations and making accounts that give them information about us that are stored in databases. I think that parents should encourage them to go outside as much as they can, and engage them in somewhat demanding conversations that will help them be more socially active and not just give them the new iPhone or Galaxy S while thinking they are great parents because they provide for them.
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    Aug 2 2012: I think texting is a transitory technology, which will shortly be replaced by video clips containing the full range of verbal expression and body language. It still won't be live like a phone call - the strength of texting is that it allows multi-tasking, but it won't rely solely on dry text and emoticons.
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      Aug 2 2012: good thoughts that expand the discussion. I;m out of thumbs up.
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      Aug 2 2012: I don't think texting will be fully replaced with video messaging. Sending videos to each other is quite heavy on the bandwidth, and slow to communicate. Like, your mom's not gonna send you a video telling you to take out the trash, or bring home dinner. You could just take 5 seconds to read/write text messages.

      Not to mention, communicating with video is in fixed time. As in you can watch a 30 second video of someone reading out loud a poem, you can't really control how fast you consume that video. But you can read the text form of the poem yourself in 10 seconds because you control how fast you consume text.
  • Aug 16 2012: As someone who worked very recently and very closely with children for quite some time, I have already seen this coming to fruition. Children these days have a very skewed perception when it comes to reading cues in an actual conversation with another person. I believe this stems from this generation's parents neglecting their roles in their child's development, shirking their duties because it is easier to toss an ipad or smartphone their way.
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    Aug 14 2012: No. As long as we are far away from internet or modern communication we will use our body language and verbal expressions spontaneously with people on street, at school at work... etc.
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      Aug 14 2012: The problem is we are not far away from the internet :)
  • Aug 14 2012: Communication is adaptive. We respond to our environment with our words, ideas and gestures. Our environment now is clearly geared toward social media and text vs. face to face communication. Clearly, face to face and non verbal communication will never go away, but if an up and coming generation is using more written language (i.e., text) and less non verbal, culture and society will adapt and that form of communication will become more the norm. I'm not sure it is positive or negative; it is simply the way communication is evolving. It would be interesting to see the same question asked 25 years from now. Loraine Antrim
  • Aug 10 2012: Perhaps we should just get the ol' pen and paper out and send as many letters to our students and children to give them the feeling we get when we receive communication in this way so it becomes the new trend. Children love to explore new things. Perhaps we can do the same by opportunities to dine with them etc.
  • Aug 10 2012: i am a teenager and do not text. yet i do not feel inclined to do so eithor. people have been like they have been for ages. yet they do change for ever. the human race will always see the need for face to face comm.
  • Aug 10 2012: Its absolutely true sir.Even i am facing the similar problem from year long.the writing skills improve automatically but the way to approcah a person, take to a person, express oneself is a quite a big task n rather a big mess.the only solution to this is to come out of this n try to face some real stuff, real persons real tasks.Unless v do this v cannot get rid of this desease.
  • Aug 9 2012: I feel that a lot, today youngsters are more comfortable off-face .

    But then its Evolution! that's how we've evolved!

    There was a time in man's history when we wouldn't talk any language; just make sounds and gesture to communicate, and then we evolved language and other developments in communication, but with this development we humans gained a lot, of-course losses were there! But things change!!!
  • Aug 6 2012: Hey peter,
    In my view though the so called "Modern technology" definitely hinders the perception of body language and verbal expression because today people feel comfortable communicating through texts rather than calling up someone.

    But in the long run, of course humans are social animals. You have to interact with people - talk to them face to face, live with the same people. The way we learnt texting, in the same way living with people makes us perceive what is called as their body language and also enables us to read between the lines. i.e., verbal expressions.!!

    I find it hard to believe that such a generation will ever be produced.
  • Aug 5 2012: If this is the case today with text based digital communication, imagine how it will shift towards verbal/body language when social networks and online games become a fully immerse virtual experience. Check out this video:

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    Aug 4 2012: There are many long comments. :)
  • Aug 4 2012: This is also the stage where all of these technologies are being introduced, and everybody is having fun using them as much as possible. But the novelty will eventually wear off, like all things do, and the usage of phones and social networks will likely be prevalent (very!) but not the way we talk about it now; Facebook's funds are already dropping and phones companies and developers are having a hard time developing many more creative ideas for the little devices. Further, there is already a want for nostalgia again; fashion proves that, as does the fact it was a theme in the Avengers (laugh card here). Though cursive writing may be bereaved from kids now, it will never fully disappear; testament to that is whenever kids see cursive writing, they want to learn it immediately, and I've never seen otherwise. These are good debates for now, but I should expect the nature of things to call order to these discussions for now.
  • Aug 4 2012: Most people seem to think that those using social networking and the modern communication elements maximally are stripping themselves of an ability to interact directly; however, they seem to forget the fact that most people are only using social networking to see how people are doing and using text messages to avoid phone tag and increase multitasking. Most of them are not sitting in a basement just watching their cell phones and Facebooks all day; they probably don't have anybody to talk to in the first place. The actuality is that the modern generation of youths and technological literati are even more social than people ever were; now, people interact nonstop.
    But that being said, people need to realize that there is no substitute for direct contact. Text messages and Facebook are impersonal, and they have increased our appreciation for direct communication. Now, in terms of verbal expression: Verbal expression is a variation of the written word (or vice versa; the point is that they are codependent.) Without the body language, it takes a lot to decipher what a person really means. To understand a text message fully does take relatively high perception; this is of course made much easier when the body language is explicitly displayed.
    Frankly, the things in communication that we have come to take for granted are now being appreciated, and they are being appreciated on a daily level. The way I see my generation is not only social, but cognizant. And as we grow up, those communicative skills will go with us in life, making a very unique generation that does not need any more worry than it has already bestowed itself.
  • Aug 4 2012: This is an excellent question. I think we are actually seeing the beginnings of a generation that won't be able to spell or write in cursive, due to pre-emptive text and typing. I also think future generations won't be able to remember anything either since they can Google everything but that's another topic.

    Skyping, texting and emoticons means there must be some type of "action" going on as opposed to two people sitting together and just enjoying each other's company without talking. What's going to happen to looking in each other's eyes or good old-fashioned flirting? Will they be able to "size someone up?" How will they act in situations where there are no appropriate words? You can't hug someone over Skype and a hug emoticon won't cut it.

    I make sure my two children have actual physical interactions with their friends. For example, two of my daughter's friends live on either side of us. When they start texting each other for more than two minutes, I make them to go outside. When my son is outside with his friends, I confiscate their handheld playthings/phones and tell them to play games with each other. Run around and be physical or use their imagination and make shapes out of the cracks on the ground or play with the dogs as our neighbors walk them by.

    I want them to know technology is great but human interaction was here before technology and it will be here after and they have to learn to deal with both.
  • Aug 4 2012: I would imagine it's hard to text rolling the eyes or shrugging.

    I have never sent nor received a text message. I haven't felt the need. Participating on TED is the closest I have ever come to social networking via computer. I see people texting all the time and I can't help but think "Just call them!"