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Health & Beauty: Text Me Maybe

As technology takes over our daily communications are we losing our hearts to the digital divide?

By Emily Fonnesbeck
Photography by Copper Chadwick

It’s the twenty-first century and we are all neck-deep in technology. Gone are the days of dial-up, landlines and cell phones the size of bricks. We now have devices smarter than we are and if there is anything we don’t know, we can ask the World Wide Web at any place and any time. Along with these technological advances, we see new problems arise. We have mobile phones and social media so that we can communicate with each other, and yet, communication has changed dramatically.

Melinda, a senior at Eagle High School, is a 17-year old girl who has a cell phone, uses Facebook, and regularly checks her email account. She is involved in extracurricular activities and excels in her academics. On an average day, Melinda sends up to 50 text messages, and admits that she texts more than she talks on the phone. She checks her Facebook page a few times a day and relies on it for social information as well as entertainment.

Annie, also a Senior at Eagle High School, shares a phone with her younger sister, doesn’t have a Facebook page, and checks her email only if she is expecting something. She is also involved in various after school activities, and like Melinda, she works hard in her classes and does well in school.

Although they differ in their methods of communication, both girls have enjoyed going to school dances and have many friends in their social circle. Both are attractive young women that have many good and desirable qualities, and both girls know someone or have experienced themselves a personal attack via text or social media.

Regardless of the amount of time you spend using technology to communicate, it is everywhere, and can be a tool used in a negative way. Personal attacks or bullying can cause serious emotional trauma, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. Child psychologist and Eagle resident Cristi Dame says that this malicious behavior is much more common than we think.

“In most teen cases I’ve seen, there has been some sort of problem with technology and communication. Whether it’s bullying, writing mean things about others, or gaming… [almost] all of them have had a problem,” Dame says. Too often things can be said via text or email, or posted on a social media that hurt or demean others. It’s much harder to say something face to face than it is to type and push send.

So what can we as peers, adults and parents do to develop healthy communication in those around us? Dame says that it’s important to set aside time without technology. A few ideas are to encourage your teen, spouse, or roommate to leave their phone in another room during family time, or to have a week free from social media. Set a time every day where you are “unplugged” and focus on a simple task, job or hobby. These are way to build healthy communication skills as well as develop a sense of reality in a virtual world.

Sandy, the mother of a 13 year-old daughter, says that she tries to monitor her daughter’s use of her cell phone, tablet and the family’s computer. On vacations, she encourages her kids to “unplug” and to be there with the family. Sandy says, “I tell them you’re here physically, but not mentally or emotionally. Be here in the moment with the family.”

Of course, technology isn’t all bad. When safely used, something like cyber dating can be a great thing. As always, precautions should always be taken when giving personal information to someone online, and teens should be extra careful when using the cyber-platform for dating. Deborah Hardee, a relationship consultant here in the Treasure Valley, says that social media can be a helpful tool if it’s used correctly, but that personal contact is important as well.

“I believe one should only use social media for light and positive communications. When anything difficult needs to be worked out, it needs to be by a phone call, video chat or in person. I believe that is true for both business and romance. The power of inflection, the tone of our voice and our facial expression is very important when communicating under difficult circumstances. Of course, one should attempt to communicate with kindness, compassion and love,” says Hardee.

Whether it is used for information, entertainment, dating, or just keeping up with friends, technology can help us in many ways, but sometimes it’s best to physically visit a friend, compliment a stranger, write a letter or just read a good old-fashioned book.