When Did You Last Have a Meaningful Conversation?
The internet is incredibly useful and can be a lot of fun. But the abundance of technology that now suffuses every aspect of daily life means that people are less likely than ever to enjoy a genuine, face-to-face conversation.
Here at StoryTerrace, we wanted to explore this further, so we commissioned research to explore the impact the Digital Age is having on the art of storytelling. The results show that the United States is rapidly becoming a nation that no longer shares experiences in an authentic way.
We found that a quarter of people in the US admitted that they regularly go weeks or months at a time without having a proper conversation with anyone, while nearly a third couldn't remember having one conversation that went further than small talk in the last week.
A Country With Eyes on Screens
According to the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg, the time American spend online each week has risen from 9.4 hours in the year 2000 to 23.6 hours in 2017. That’s a lot of screen time!
The advent of technology has of course made life easier, but living in a faster and more convenient world has very real ramifications. According to our research, 20% of Americans admit that if they didn't document their experiences or thoughts on social media, they didn't feel they were validated. Meanwhile, 19% couldn't remember the last time they had a meaningful conversation that wasn't online.
Our research shows that speaking and listening may be becoming obsolete in today’s society. Unfortunately, this new habit could have a negative impact on mental and emotional health.
Technology and Your Mental Health
A 2019 study published by JAMA found that three hours of social media use per day correlated with higher rates of mental health issues among young people, even after adjusting for a history of such problems.
So is technology increasing our feelings of loneliness? Our research found that 39% of Americans would be surprised if someone asked how they were and wanted a real answer. They would also feel uncertain how to respond genuinely, because their assumption is that most people don’t actually care about how they’re feeling.
This brings up a few questions: Is conversation a lost art? What happens when people no longer share experiences with friends and family directly? And, crucially, how do people keep their stories alive in the fast-paced Digital Age?
While technology has enhanced many aspects of modern life, authentic speaking and listening remain key components of happiness and good heath.
As StoryTerrace founder and CEO Rutger Bruining says:
"Communication is vital to our health, wellbeing and overall happiness; it is a basic human need to seek out contact and interaction with others. Yet our research has shown that many of us are going weeks or even months without having a proper conversation with anyone. There are several reasons to which we can attribute this decline in communication, but one of the key factors is that, in today's content and celebrity culture, many people simply believe that their tales just aren't worth telling.
At StoryTerrace, however, we've found that if you ask the right questions, everyone's life is interesting. You don't have to be a celebrity or politician to have a story worth capturing. Many people have made interesting life choices, pursued their dreams leading to incredible stories of failure and success, endured adversity, explored the world, contributed to their family and community, and been part of history as it happened. These stories spark deeper connections and are treasured by relatives when they are recorded."
Keeping Family Stories Alive
Our research also delved into the practice of sharing family stories in the modern era. When family members speak directly to each other, they pass along wisdom and a sense of connection that binds generations to each other in a meaningful way.
We found that one in three Americans know of incredible legacies or unsung heroes in their family, yet felt they would be distant memories in the near future because the stories aren’t preserved anywhere.
Documenting your life and keeping family memories alive is truly a gift for future generations. At StoryTerrace, we believe your story is worth telling. That’s why we’ve helped thousands of people to capture their life story in their very own book — and we’d love to help you do it, too.
Together, let's keep screen time in its place. Let's promise to keep speaking and listening to each other. And let’s keep celebrating the human capacity for storytelling in a way that both honors the past and looks toward the future.