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Four Years at the Mount

Junior year

Facebook vs. Face-to-face

Nicole Jones
Class of 2014

(3/2013) When I sat down with my fellow writers to watch Good Night and Good Luck, Iíll admit that I was initially fairly bored. As I continued to watch, it slowly dawned on me how dedicated Edward Murrow was to his profession. He saw a new development in his journalistic expertise and felt that it wasnít being used to the best advantage Ė and he did something about it. To me, that was the most prominent message that this movie portrayed: to stand up for what you believe is right. As Murrow said, we cannot be a people who are afraid "to write, to associate, to speak, and to defend the causes that were for the moment unpopular." If you want to see a change in your world, you have to create it yourself.

For me, this process begins by evaluating how prominent the problem I see in others is in my own life. In this case, how much time is spent using technology to communicate instead of having in-person social interactions?

Like most modern young people, I am guilty of owning a computer, television, cell phone, and mp3 player. In between classes and homework I respond to emails, check my Facebook, call home, text friends, listen to music, or watch a TV show. While I see no harm in spending time to relax like this in the midst of my otherwise busy day, I know I am just as guilty of overindulging in these things, especially during the weekends.

How many times in the week have you seen, "How r u 2day?" on your cell phone or computer screen? Naturally some of these messages are from people you may not be able to easily visit, but how often are they from a friend you could easily spend some time with in person? Every time we choose cyber messaging over social interaction, we gain the speed and efficiency of modern technology, but we may be losing much more in our personal relationships.

This is proven true in my own life. My best friend is notorious for being glued to her iPhoneís screen. It doesnít matter if she actually needs to call someone or not. I have held entire one-sided conversations with her as she scrolls down her Facebook wall; this often results in my having to repeat my entire conversation. Iíve often pointed this problem out to her, explaining that sheís being rude and inconsiderate, but her behavior has inexplicably remained the same. Is what Iím telling her really less interesting or important than the cat picture in her news feed?

This is not to say that technology does not have its place in the world of communication and socialization. Blogs, social-networking sites, emails, text messages Ė all of these things are beneficial to keeping in touch with friends and family that may be too far away to visit and are conducive to fast business practices. But when you truly want to get to know someone, emails and Facebook profiles just donít cut it. I say this not only as a sociable individual, but also as a journalist.

More and more often I am finding writers for the campus paper, The Mountain Echo, relying upon email to not only contact, but also complete entire interviews with their sources. Perhaps even more disconcerting is the fact that I, the managing editor for the Echo, am just as guilty of this.

Ideally, a journalist is able to sit down with a source and have a quick interview, even if it is only a quote or two in passing. When these interviews become predominantly via email, the journalist begins to sacrifice to quality of his or her work.

While the convenience of email is undeniable Ė being able to answer in oneís own time and having a hard copy of the original quotes Ė it lacks the interaction a live interview allows. Responses in email often become more academic and calculated in form. While it is nice to have a precise response, it removes a significant amount of the emotion from the equation. As journalists, emotion is exactly what we want to capture, as it helps the audience relate and understand our message and how it is affecting the world around them. Email also removes the potential for follow-up questions by breaking the natural flow of a conversation and replacing it with a stiff question-and-answer format that requires no improvisation from the journalist or the source.

The same is true when using technology to interact with friends.

Technology has diminished the natural desire for face-to-face interaction. Socializing has been reduced to a watered-down version of the real thing because our computers and cell phones are more convenient than a lunch date during our busy week. As a result, we lose those subtle nuances that technology fails to convey Ė facial expressions, gestures and movement, pitch, tone, inflection, sarcasm Ė the list goes on. Weíve tried to compensate for this through the use of emoticons, but does a little yellow smiley-face really compare to the actual personís smile? In my opinion, no, it doesnít. Every time an emoticon is used, someone has failed to see the whiteness of the other personís teeth, the way his or her eyes crinkle, lips curl and large dimples appear on his or her cheeks. Someone has failed to hear the high-pitched squeal of his or her friendís "LOL" or been unable to enjoy the humor of actually watching someone "ROTFL." Human interaction is more than just acronyms; it stimulates all five of our senses while a text message only engages one.

As a journalist, these are the kinds of interactions and emotions that we look for in our sources. Unfortunately, it is now also everything Echo writers are losing through their email interviews. As the editor, I feel that it is my responsibility to combat this, but Iíve found that encouragement is not enough to motivate my writers to get off their email accounts and out the door. My next step is investing in digital voice recorders for the staff Ė a happy compromise. Writers must still meet face-to-face for an interview, but will have a reliable record or what was said in order to maintain accurate quotes.

As for my social life, Iím making a point of taking trips off of campus every weekend with my friends, even if itís just to go grocery shopping together. I may also implement a new rule for some of my text-loving buddies Ė leave your cell phone on the table. First person to answer their phone has to buy dinner. Perhaps a little conniving, but itís a way of making my point while still having fun.

Edward Murrow understood that technology was only as great as man made it; otherwise it became "merely wires and lights in a box." So as we enjoy our iPads, Kindles, HPs, and BlackBerrys, let us not forget that there is no real substitution for a proper conversation. Just because you can keep in touch entirely with technology, doesnít mean you should. I encourage you to take some time this week and share a cup of coffee with a friend; you may just learn more about them in those 30-minutes than their Facebook profile has told you all year.

Read other articles by Nicole Jones