Education · Op-Ed · Technology

An Op-Ed: Has technology killed the conversationalist?

*Note: This post was written May 18, 2016. 

As I sit here at the airport waiting on my second of three flights this month for work, I’m reminded of how dependent (or reliant) society is on technology. There are charging stations at every corner of the airport for travelers to stay fully charged while away from home, and there is Wi-Fi available to everyone throughout the airport as well as on most flights (when the Wi-Fi is working). Many passengers don’t even print out their boarding passes before their flights anymore, but instead rely on their smartphones for scan-able boarding passes. While waiting just over an hour and a half through the security checkpoint at O’Hare this morning, I was actually questioning the validity of those non-printed boarding passes. How do the TSA personnel physically write on those passes to make sure that person has been cleared through security?

Technology is also playing a key part outside the terminal. For example, while sitting here at my gate I noticed outside the window that a suitcase, which was supposed to be stowed away on a flight going to Charleston, SC, fell off the cargo truck and was laying on the tarmac under the walkway to the plane. It was over 20 minutes before someone came back to retrieve the suitcase. I would like to think that some technology notified the luggage handler of the missing suitcase, but then again wouldn’t we have NO missing bags if that were the case?

While waiting for the boarding call to begin, I noticed that many passengers – including myself – are on their personal technology devices. Laptops, smartphones, iPads and e-readers are in full usage all around the terminal. While video may have killed the radio star, has technology killed the conversationalist? What happened to participating in pleasant small talk with other passengers while waiting for a flight? I noticed a middle-aged man who had arrived at the gate very early waiting to board the plane. When another couple about his age sat down near him, he tried to strike up a conversation about how he is a widower traveling to Boston this weekend to see his daughter graduate from college with dual degrees. He was beaming, but they just looked at him and said some comment in a dismissive tone along the lines of, “Boy, that’s great. Congratulations.” Then they proceeded to have their own conversation. Now the widower is just sitting there looking out the window and at the passengers going by in the terminal. It was quite sad to witness the death of this conversation right before my own eyes. Even now, I know I rely heavily on my own technology to keep me connected to my family while I’m traveling, but I recognize that I need to spend more time talking to family and friends via phone or face-to-face to keep those lines of communication open.

As a professor of communication studies, I’m quite aware that the best form of communication, to make sure that both nonverbal and verbal communications are being accurately transmitted, is face-to-face communication. Electronic communication is, in my opinion, the least effective form of communication because it’s missing both non-verbal cues associated with body language as well as verbal cues like tone and inflection, as depicted in this illustration by Bill Warters of Creative Commons .

CommunicationModelDiagramWithout the appropriate channel of communication, how can you be sure your message is being transferred effectively? Can you recall a time when your lack of choosing the proper medium led you down a path of total miscommunication? While this is a lecture that I share with my students during the first week of my class, the lessons learned from this lecture carry well beyond the classroom.

Technology challenge: Today I challenge all my readers to take one moment out of the next week to try to strike up a conversation with someone outside your comfort zone. I’m not asking you to be “that guy” who starts talking to everyone at the grocery store, but maybe you’re on the train riding in to work and you realize that, instead of texting a family member, you actually pick up the phone to talk to them just to say hi.

While we know that technology has killed the art of correspondence, let’s not let it kill the art of being a conversationalist. Verbal, face-to-face communication is essential to the development of all mankind and is slowly becoming extinct. Do you think we can avoid adding the conversationalist to the endangered species list? Put down your technology and open your mouth – don’t let the art of conversation die.

Daily Life Hacks · Product Review · Technology

How technology fuels my day

I love my car! I really do – I enjoy driving in to work and having a little quiet “me time” to drink my coffee, listen to talk radio and sing loudly! In recent months, my always reliable car had a few less-than-reliable moments (e.g. dead battery, broken coolant hose thingie). In an effort to keep my 2007 Nissan Altima alive for a few more years, I’ve recently started taking the Metra into to work daily.  Now I know what you are saying, “Why would you not take the Metra to work? You can save yourself a bunch of money by not having to pay for downtown parking.” While yes, that is true, but for me, my alone time in my car is priceless! But, alas, I’ve decided that having reliable transportation outside of work hours is more important that my alone time in my car.

Thankfully I have tons of gadgets and apps to keep me totally occupied on my commute.  However, it’s not just my commute that is fueled by technology as I have realized that my whole life is plugged-in.  I am totally accessible via a myriad of technology and communication devices nearly all the time and it is by choice. I want to be able to pick up my phone, laptop or ipad to connect to the world, for function and for fun.  Here are a few of my life hacks via technology that keep my day afloat.

ParkMobile App:  Any frequent commuter knows that there are apps for checking train and bus schedules like Transit Stop and OnTime Metra, but are you aware that you can pay for your Metra parking via an app?  It’s great!  Running late for the train?  No worries if you have the ParkMobile App.  It’s synced to your debit/credit card and you can pay for your parking via your smartphone.  This app has truly been a lifesaver for me, especially when I don’t have exact cash in my wallet when I arrive at the train station.

Apple iBooks:  I know many will agree, but don’t you ever feel like you’re a bag lady going to work? Lunch, work bag, purse, coffee cup, maybe laptop sleeve?  It’s crazy!  I love having Apple’s iBooks synced on my iPad Mini and iPhone where I can have few books, newspapers and magazines all downloaded and ready for me to hit the train in the morning.

Target In Store Pickup:  I love Target, as many people do.  But today I wanted to share my appreciation for the technology that Target has implemented to help busy adults do their Target shopping while on the go.  I can ride in to work and go through my shopping list.  Then select the items for Target’s In-Store Pick-Up, place the order and then pick up my purchases on the way to the train for my commute home. This is a great feature especially if there is a Target close to your office or home. It saves a ton of time, especially when your day is short on time, or when you realized that you used up your last nighttime diaper on your toddler the night before…just sayin’!

Spotify: My nephew Brian turned me on to Spotify a few years back and I love it.  It’s an online streaming website (free) where you can choose any artist or any album and listen to their music via your desktop or mobile device. The desktop version is free but you have to pay for the mobile devise access.  I know many people listen to Pandora, but the major difference is that Pandora is playlists of different artists based on styles of music, where this is artist- and album-based online streaming. I listen to music all day long via Spotify while at work and It’s great. If you think of a song you haven’t heard in awhile, I bet you can find it on Spotify!

Apple Facetime: I cherish the fact that my husband and mom both have iphone so I can facetime with them from work when I need my “Jimmy fix.”  I love seeing my little toddler running around the house, playing with his daddy or reading books with his grandma.  Facetime allows me the opportunity to stay connected with my son, get a few screen kisses and hugs, and let him know that I’m just a call away.

WGN-AM Podcasts:  Sometimes when I’m not interested in reading while on the train I listen to The Download with Justin Kaufmann podcasts .  I discovered Justin Kaufman’s show when I was on my commute home from teaching at DePaul on Monday nights and I love the context of his show that many of my peers in their 30’s would enjoy too.

PBS Kids App: For me, this is the app if you don’t want to clog your DVR with kids’ shows.  My son doesn’t watch a ton of TV, mostly just dances around to the music in commercials (or the Jeopardy! theme when my hubby is catching up on his DVR).  But recently he wants to cuddle up and play with my cell phone before his bedtime.  So I downloaded the PBS Kids App which I saw in a commercial on PBS.  It’s amazing! It’s most of the PBS shows all in one app that you can download whenever you want.  It’s like having a mini portable DVR for my son directly in my phone. He loves Super Why! and is recently discovering Daniel Tiger and Thomas the Train.

While many people think that technology is ruining the world (and I do agree that it’s hindering some of our basic communication skills), many advances have undeniably made our lives even more functioning in this fast-paced world. So- what are some of your technology life hacks that you’d like to share with busy parents?