zondag 27 september 2015

How smartphones harm conversations

The article Stop Googling. Let’s Talk discusses how looking on the phone harms conversations. Some excerpts: When college students explain to me how dividing their attention plays out in the dining hall, some refer to a “rule of three.” In a conversation among five or six people at dinner, you have to check that three people are paying attention — heads up — before you give yourself permission to look down at your phone. So conversation proceeds, but with different people having their heads up at different times. The effect is what you would expect: Conversation is kept relatively light, on topics where people feel they can drop in and out. Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel. People keep the conversation on topics where they won’t mind being interrupted. They don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us. In 2010, a team at the University of Michigan led by the psychologist Sara Konrath put together the findings of 72 studies that were conducted over a 30-year period. They found a 40 percent decline in empathy among college students, with most of the decline taking place after 2000. According to the article conversation has become less "open-ended and spontaneous, in which we play with ideas and allow ourselves to be fully present and vulnerable. But it is in this type of conversation — where we learn to make eye contact, to become aware of another person’s posture and tone, to comfort one another and respectfully challenge one another — that empathy and intimacy flourish. In these conversations, we learn who we are. At a retreat, the dean described how a seventh grader had tried to exclude a classmate from a school social event. It’s an age-old problem, except that this time when the student was asked about her behavior, the dean reported that the girl didn’t have much to say: “She was almost robotic in her response. She said, ‘I don’t have feelings about this.’ She couldn’t read the signals that the other student was hurt.” The dean went on: “Twelve-year-olds play on the playground like 8-year-olds. The way they exclude one another is the way 8-year-olds would play. They don’t seem able to put themselves in the place of other children.” A college junior told me that she shied away from conversation because it demanded that one live by the rigors of what she calls the “seven minute rule.” It takes at least seven minutes to see how a conversation is going to unfold. You can’t go to your phone before those seven minutes are up. If the conversation goes quiet, you have to let it be. For conversation, like life, has silences — what some young people I interviewed called “the boring bits.” It is often in the moments when we stumble, hesitate and fall silent that we most reveal ourselves to one another. But the article sees hope: on a no-Phones camp kids quickly learn traditional conversation. It is also making such camps much more important than in the past. The article sees even harm in attending to the phone when alone as it breaks the concentration of solitude. It sees a connection between solitude and conversation: In solitude we learn to concentrate and imagine, to listen to ourselves. We need these skills to be fully present in conversation.

dinsdag 1 september 2015

The coddling of the American mind

The Altantic has an article ("The coddling of the American Mind - How Trigger Warnings Are Hurting Mental Health on Campus") about the increasing sensitivity of students at universities in the US. It notes the movement for "trigger warnings". This claims that if a college or prescribed book might trigger an emotional response in some students because it contains passages about violence, rape, racism or something else sensitive, the students should be warned up front and should be enabled to avoid the subject by making it optional. One example the article mentions is law students who don't want to study the law on rape. It also mentions "micro-aggressions". Where before harassment might trigger repercussions now "micro-aggressions" are enough. The difference is that micro-aggressions only need to happen once to be considered offensive and that they are subjective. If someone feels offended it should be taken seriously. The article links the phenomena to the protective way in which the present generation has been raised. Gone are the times when children played for long times outside the house without adult supervision. There may also be a link with the present attention to bullying. No one can expect that everyone likes him. There will always people who do not like you and who harass you. However, if the whole social universe of a child consist of a few quarters of an hour around school time he hasn't much opportunity to find alternative social worlds and people who do accept him and where he feels safe. The article notes that the psychology on fear and trauma teaches confronting the fears - not condoning them. And that by condoning them the universities are not only failing to learn those sensitive students to deal with their sensitivities and to get used to the real world, but that they are also teaching the rest of the students to adopt such sensitivities. In contrast to the movement for political correctness a few decades ago the present climate focuses on emotions. The article foresees much trouble as a result. Those sensitive kids might become very eager to start law suits against anyone hurting their feelings. In fact we see the effect already in politics - where Republicans and Democrats have become different tribes who hardly interact and have very negative images of each other.