Galinast/123RF
Source: Galinast/123RF

Social media is often blamed for the deterioration of communication skills. The failure to communicate began long before the advent of the Internet. New innovations did, however, start the weakening of communication skills and the beginning of social isolation. These new innovations made life more comfortable for people but formed the foundations for the social walls that exist today. Social is the natural extension of a trend that started decades ago. 

Air Conditioning

Before air conditioning, people went to great lengths to stay cool. I remember spending hours in front of an oscillating fan seeking refuge from the summer heat. On especially hot days, my mother put a bowl of ice in front of the fan to cool off the hot, churning air. Sunset provides the only relief from the heat of the day, but the houses retained heat long after sunset. People fled to their front porches and stoops to escape the radiant heat. People waved and chatted with neighbors and talked with people as they took evening strolls. Summer evenings were a time for community conversations. These conversations drew people into each other’s lives. When we become a part of other people’s lives we care for their well-being. Shared joy, sorrow, and trivialities form the threads that hold a community together. Air conditioning changed all that. The need to go outside to cool off no longer existed. People remained sealed up in their homes. They were comfortable, but they no longer felt the comfort of community.

Attached Garages

 Attached garages minimized of community contact. Walking the distance from the garage to the front door provided opportunities for neighbors to stop and briefly chat if they so desired. Walking from a detached garage to the house people interact with their neighbors. Meaningful conversations were often truncated to waves and short salutations. The distance from the garage to the house served as a lifeline to the community. Attached garages changed all that. People walk in solitude from their cars to the interior entrances to their homes. The closing overhead door shuts out any opportunity for spontaneous communication with neighbors. 

Garage Door Openers

Garage door openers took away the last vestiges of neighborly contact. The distance between the car and the garage door was often short, but people could still see their neighbors and, at least, wave to them to acknowledge their existence. These short neighborly contacts often extended into longer visits to exchange familial news and gossip. With the advent of the garage door opener, people no longer had to get out of their cars to enter their garages. Their world shrank from community size to me size. In an egocentric world, developing compassion for others is difficult because people don’t have personal contact with one another.

Social Media

Social media continues the trend of declining personal contact. People don’t even look at each other anymore. The walk with their heads down mesmerized by their phones. Interpersonal communication skills are deteriorating because people no longer rely on social cues to guide personal communication. Ironically, with each advance in communication technology, people become more and more isolated from the community in which they live.  

For tips and techniques to initiate, maintain, or repair relationships refer to The Like Switch: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Influencing, Attracting, and Winning People Over. 

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