Is Eye Contact Becoming a thing of the Past? 1

Has technology shortened your attention span?
Do you prefer communicating via email versus face-to-face contact?
Do you find yourself using computer and cell phone short hand in regular correspondence?
Do you even engage in regular, i.e. handwritten, snail mail correspondence?
Do you think nothing of holding a conversation and not even looking in your companion’s eyes?

At board meetings and at conferences, I’ve noticed that as more and more people use laptops, cell phones, and PDA devices, less and less eye contact happens.  What I see happening reminds me of the parallel play that young children engage in. They don’t really know how to play with each other; rather they play in the same room with the same toys but don’t really engage.  Sound familiar?

Making eye contact used to be an important social and cultural practice.  As a Black girl who didn’t make eye contact out of deference to adults,* I had to learn to look adults straight in the eye when I moved to a predominantly white high school, to fit in with that culture.  Not making eye contact was something that was actually noted in comments about behavior.  It was seen as disrespectful, rude or an indication that a student was painfully shy.

When I worked with teens of color, I often had to coach them on the importance of making eye contact with teachers, employers and other adults.

Now, I see that eye contact is changing.  Young people (and older people adept or perhaps a better word is enamored with technology) find it easy to have conversations, or what passes for conversation, while texting or emailing or searching the web. 

What’s your opinion, dear reader? Is eye contact becoming less of a social grace than it used to be?  Have you found yourself changing your behavior because of the electronic gadgets/tools we tote around?

I will confess that I am so used to reaching machines that I am often startled when a live human answers – especially when I’m calling an organization or business.  (It catches me so off guard that sometimes I actually stammer trying to gather my thoughts to talk to a real person).  I also find myself trying to make calls after hours so I can just leave a message and not engage in conversation.

Ditto for email – as a fast typist and quick thinker (not quickly brilliant but quick nonetheless) – I enjoy sending email messages because I can complete a thought without interruption.  (That’s why I don’t like IM so much.)  Emailing is one-way communication – not true dialogue or conversation.  IM is short-hand utterances in my opinion.

I feel a change coming on so that those of us who make eye contact when we’re talking to and with another human being face2face, may in fact be considered rude or intimidating or threatening.  Or will we just be old-fashioned.

(‘Course when I join the laptop crowd I guess I’ll become one of those face-down communicators, too.)

*I also said “Yes, sir,” and “No, m’am” to adults and was teased about it when I first came up North.

About Candelaria Silva

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a marketing, community outreach and programming consultant; writer; and trainer/facilitator who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has designed and facilitated workshops on a wide variety of topics including communication, facilitation, job search skills, team building, and parenting issues. She currently coordinates the Community Membership Program of the Huntington Theatre Company. Her work as Director of ACT Roxbury was profiled in several publications, including The Creative Communities Builders Handbook. Candelaria’s children’s stories, short stories, essays and reviews have been published in local and national publications and she is an active blogger. Her publications include the booklets, Handling Rejection; Pushing through Shyness: Networking Tips when You’re Shy, Slow to Warm Up or Just don’t Feel you Belong; and Real Questions about Sex & Relationships for Teens: A Discussion Guide for Parents. She has served on the boards of Goddard College, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston Foundation for Architecture, and Discover Roxbury. She is currently Chair, Designators of the Henderson Foundation.

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One thought on “Is Eye Contact Becoming a thing of the Past?

  • Jim

    There’s no getting away from what is. The question I find to be most important and very difficult to answer is how to accept the new without abandoning the old and equally important, how to teach the people who nevr had the old what they are missing. Is this the same as it has always been with different particulars?