Technology impacting conversations

[Cell phones, laptops and iPads have become a crucial part of many college students’ daily lives – By Tony Lee]

Students, professors differ in amount of technology usage but agree hinders face-to-face exchanges

By Maddie Gionet, guest writer

ST. BONAVENTURE (Feb. 23) – Ryan McDonald sits in Café La Verna, a coffeehouse on St. Bonaventure University’s campus, typing a text message. Thumbs a blur, they suddenly stop. Message sent.

“Funny, isn’t it?” said the junior management major. “I’m about to be interviewed about technology and I can’t put my phone down for two seconds.”

David Levine, a computer science professor, types up PowerPoint slides in his office for his courses.

“I only bring my laptop home with me when I know I have schoolwork to do,” he said. “I didn’t install high-speed Internet at home until my daughter was in middle school. I wanted to separate my home life from my work life.”

A dozen underclassmen and five professors interviewed said mobile phones, iPods and laptops hinder face-to-face conversation.

“I’m from Florida so it’s a lot easier for me to keep in touch with my friends by texting them instead of taking the time to call or send a letter,” said Katie Parker, a freshman undecided major. “Staying connected with my friends from home does keep me from making friendships here, though.”

According to a 2010 Nielsen study, 223 million Americans over age 13 own a mobile phone. The number of mobile Web users has risen from 45.6 million in 2008 to 60.7 million in 2010, a 33 percent increase. Facebook users average six hours per month on the social network that connects people worldwide.

Bona students and professors said technology dependence has to do with age.

“I remember having a black and white TV with three channels,” said Chris Stanley, a theology professor. “We had to write letters and make personal visits to stay in contact.”

Stanley said technology dependence and age have a connection.

“We knew how to survive without technology and if it all disappeared today, we’d be fine,” he said. “Students on the other hand, would have a much harder time functioning I would think.”

Others agreed age could be a factor.

“I know I should text only a few times, but I send about 150 texts a day,” said Katie Rush, a sophomore elementary and special education major. “My computer is on whenever I’m in my room. I think I use technology about 13 hours a day and mostly for Facebook.”

David Pesci, a senior biology major, said he uses his computer and cell phone less than students like Rush because of the quality of conversation.

“I use my computer and phone about six hours a day,” he said. “I miss the thoughtfulness put into a letter or the personal connection you get when having a face-to-face conversation.”

Pesci and other students said dependence on technology has changed their lives.

“We haven’t lost the ability to have a face-to-face conversation, but we’ve lost the comfortability,” he said. “Awkward conversations are easier to have through an e-mail or a text message. It takes out all the emotions.”

Denny Wilkins, a professor of journalism and mass communication, said students’ dependence on mobile phones, iPods and laptops results in a lack of communication.

Wilkins, who holds a doctorate in media studies, said he primarily communicates with students in his courses through e-mail. Many don’t stay in touch with him because they aren’t checking their e-mail at least once a day.

Sources said balance in using technology is key.

“We are by nature interactive beings, so technology definitely helps us stay connected,” said Cathi Beatty, counselor at the Counseling Center. “But I also think it’s hard for us to sit quietly with ourselves because we need that stimulation. It’s good to find a balance.”

McDonald agreed.

“I like technology,” he said. “It’s scary when Google starts trying to finish my thoughts, but overall it’s great. It makes the biggest idiot look intelligent, but it also helps us stay connected even if we’re spread out all over the world.”

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