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A 160-Character Generation

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I felt my phone vibrate between my legs. I picked it up and “Marie” flashed across the screen. As I hit the talk button I put it up to my ear, “Hey babe, what’s up?” She let out a whine and I knew some sort of complaint would ensue. “Okay so this may sound dumb, but my boyfriend is acting so weird. He’s only texted me once today. I think something’s wrong, Colleen.” I was dumbfounded. I wanted to ask her if she was serious, but I knew she was. “Well maybe he had a busy day,” was all I could come up with. “No. We always text throughout the day, something’s different.” I let her babble on as I tried to grasp how the frequency of text messaging could actually define a relationship status.

Marie is just one of many teens that represent a majority of our generation that is lacking basic communication skills needed to establish and maintain healthy relationships. Cell phones and the internet have taken the place of old fashioned conversation. No longer do you see boys and girls chatting at their lockers or spending afternoons together. They are usually texting in class or going home to check their Facebook. Enter any high school and you will be enveloped with beeps, vibrations, and clicks. These are the sounds of today’s communication. Phones are attached to teen’s hips. Computers have become a necessity. Teens have it all wrong.



Cell phones are indispensable tools, which is utterly sad. They are required to have a functioning social life, yet provide no social skills. Oral conversations have become a rare interaction, due to the prevalence and ease of texting. And of course, since you are hidden behind a screen you have the confidence to respond to people in ways you never would if you were face to face. As a senior I got hit on by a sophomore boy who I had never spoken to before via Facebook chat. I found humor in this. He would never come up to me in school and talk to me the way he was typing online. He was hiding behind a computer screen so he couldn’t see my reaction and he didn’t have to feel my rejection because there was a barrier in between. The blow was a lot less harsh since it was read and not heard. Using a screen as a buffer stunts a teen’s ability to pick up on social cues.

Teens have an obsession with texting and they let it control their lives. According to Amanda Lenhart who did research for Pew Research Center on “Teens, Cell Phones and Texting,” 54% of teens text on a daily basis compared to the 33% that actually make time to have daily face to face interactions with friends. The majority of all teen interactions are done via technology. This is not healthy. Sonya Hamlin who wrote, “How to Talk so People Listen: Connecting in Today’s Workplace,” commented about communication in a USA Today article. She says, “We are losing very natural, human, instinctive skills that we used to be really good at.” The more time we spend on the phone, the less we know about how to interact with our peers on a truly personal level.

Although there has been a texting epidemic and every teen from Maine to New Mexico has jumped on board, the internet still plays a large part in the decline in physical interaction. Facebook, MySpace, AIM, and other social networking sites have consumed teen life and become a primary source of communication. The internet allows you to make new friends, connect with old ones, and unfortunately hide behind a computer screen. Since there is no face to face interaction teens can be whoever they want on the internet.

From screen names to touched up profile pictures, online personas differ from what people get when they meet someone in real life. Some say that they are more themselves online, but I think differently. While communicating on the internet, teens are more inclined to do and say things that are out of character. In some cases shy girls are more confident and outgoing online because boys aren’t right in front of them so it is easier to be flirtatious. I remember being a freshman and feeling a confidence boost when I would talk to boys online, but in person I would freeze up. The computer screen in between put me at ease and gave me time to process thoughts instead of fumbling over my words. Although it helped to calm my nerves it didn’t teach me how to interact in a social setting. My shyness would take over when I saw them in the hallways, so I would avoid them, never allowing myself to personally connect. Boys do the same thing; they use the internet as a shield, acting differently online to impress girls or try and make friends. The internet provides no social skills and allows teens to create a persona that may not be true to themselves.

The more we alter what healthy communication is, the more confused we become about how to interact when we are actually in the same room as one another. Relationships whose foundations are built upon a keyboard and screen do not compare to a genuine relationship. Ingenuine relationships have become harder and harder to detect because teens these days truly don’t recognize what a healthy relationship is. A relationship isn’t based on how many texts you’ve sent each other in one day, but the connection that you build and the comfort that follows. Being able to truly share who you are around someone else and have them appreciate you and want to grow with you to improve yourself is vital in a relationship. Technology is allowing teens to create a false sense of knowing someone. And then it is used as a way to deal with critical parts of their relationships that should be dealt with on more personal and intimate levels. Using technology to form, deal with, or end a relationship is a cop out.

I have witnessed multiple relationships based on technology fall to pieces. I have seen it tear apart a beautiful girl’s self-esteem. And I have seen it control a social-butterfly’s life. Marie is that beautiful and confident girl that lost her glow due to her devotion to her phone. I watched her collapse onto my floor, curling into a ball, her Blackberry lying in her hand. She was bawling. The boy she was desperately searching for approval from had just texted her: “You’re a dumb, fat, ugly bitch. No one here likes you. You are a slut and I want nothing to do with you.” I read this and immediately hopped off my bed so I could comfort her. I couldn’t fathom how someone could say those things with such ease. It was because he didn’t have to see the reaction to his words. He didn’t have to watch this poor beautiful girl fall to pieces and repeat the same question over and over again, “Why?” “Marie don’t you dare let his words get to you, he is an asshole. He clearly has no idea how great you are and doesn’t deserve to if this is how he talks to you.” I tried to comfort her and say all the right things, but I knew it didn’t help. I begged her to pull the plug; on this asshole, on her phone, and on these relationships that are based on nothing but 160 characters. She didn’t hear me though. All she took in were the words that she continued to reread off her three by three screen.

Teens are destroying the basis of communication by relying on texting and social networking sites to help them form relationships. They are losing the sense of what a connection is with another person. In order to have a close, strong relationship, time spent together is necessary. Voices have been replaced with letters and what is written down has become more powerful than what is said. I don’t want to lose faith in my voice. I don’t want to allow these ongoing, technology-based relationships to define my generation. I want it to be okay to put down the cell phone, step away from the computer, and actually get personal.





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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

Chloe27 said...
Jun. 2, 2010 at 10:43 pm
Loved it, nicely written.
 
Asianflowers said...
Jun. 2, 2010 at 2:30 am

Great job!!

You are insightful. It's so true! I will never look at a cellphone the same way again. You have talent. I want to see more awe inspiring pieces in the future.

 
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