|Tongue-tied teenagers: Are cell phones and iPods taking a toll on our youth?
A high school girl sits quietly at the end of a long cafeteria table, the earpiece to an Apple iPod disappearing under a lock of hair. Opposite her, another girl appears to be staring at the floor. She shifts, revealing that a text-message conversation has her in its grip. Fingers fly in a blurred frenzy on her cell phone keypad. Elsewhere in the room, the view is mixed. Most tables are consumed by gaggles of laughing teenagers, but a growing number are inhabited by a less communicative bunch.
Cell phones and iPods are handy during long car rides or for calls home after long trips, but many people believe they are single-handedly ruining the communicative skills of teenagers and even adults everywhere. Today’s society has been swept up in a storm of technology, but are America’s youth the victims or receivers of a gift?
The answer goes both ways. While many people believe technology is hurting verbal skills, new studies suggest it may help writing skills.
In previous decades, it was tough getting teens to hang up the house phone. Chatting with friends hasn’t changed, but the form of communication has. Instead of talking in person or on the home phone, kids now use computers or cell phones to send “instant” or “text” messages, post personal web logs (blogs), or to connect socially on MySpace pages.
According to author Sonya Hamlin, these changes have led to a drop in verbal communication skills, which worries employers and communication experts. In her book, How to Talk So People Listen: Connecting In Today’s Workplace, Ms. Hamlin said some California high school seniors got tongue-tied when she asked them what they would say during a college interview. She said they couldn’t carry on an adult conservation, their answers were short, and they were not very informational.
However, while technology may hurt verbal communication skills, new evidence suggests it actually may help writing and story-telling skills. A University of Toronto study found that 80 percent of teens are texting and using instant messaging, leading to an increase in writing ability and creativity, including anecdotal writing.
On the other hand, certain slang phrases and fragmented sentences often used in instant or text messaging have become accepted forms of communication. Teens are 10 times more likely to use nonstandard English phrases on exams than in 1980, according to a Cambridge University study.
So what’s a teenager to do? Reach out for opportunities to verbally communicate. Pick up the phone and call a friend or sit down and talk to your teacher. Every minute is practice for your future.
Erika Hooker is a Mount Markham senior who will major in communications and international studies this fall at Cornell University.