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Special Report: Fading Face-to-Face

Updated: 05/12/2014 2:46 PM
Created: 05/12/2014 2:29 PM WDIO.com
By: Alan Hoglund
ahoglund@wdio.com

It was around 20 years ago when the internet itself really started to catch on.

We're long past hearing the annoying dial up noise, now enjoying lightning-fast email, unlimited access to information and more social media options than we can comprehend.

"I have teenage children," Tom Reummele told Eyewitness News. "That is how they communicate these days, with thumbs on some device."

When Reummele was a teen, the technology didn't even exist. Now, he said he's on it constantly, and so are his kids.

"Someday everyone will be sitting around the dinner table having a text message conversation with each other."

Reummele is not only a father, but the current president of Kiwanis of Friendly Duluth. The organization holds an auction on WDIO every year.

People join to serve the community and socialize, meeting one time each week at the Kitchi Gammi Club in Duluth."I'd say our attendance is in that 35 to 40 range," Reummele said.

However, compared to recent years, he said fewer members show up. One reason is that companies aren't contributing as much for employee membership fees. The second: "They may not be attending the meetings quite as often because they feel they can stay connected by social media," according to Reummele.

Why take a flight to visit family when you can keep in touch online? Why catch up with a friend over lunch when the latest news on their life is just a few clicks away?

Social media has grown to far more than the billion-plus user site Facebook. To name just a handful more, you've got Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, Google Plus and LinkedIn. It's a mouthful, but the list will likely continue to grow. That means more time spent in front of a screen, less time talking to a person face-to-face.

"Too much screen time takes away from interacting with the world," Carina Barker said, a psychotherapist who does individual and family counseling at the St. Luke's Mental Health Clinic. "Being face-to-face, we can see their body language. We can work through problems together because we can hear how someone is responding to us."

Online, there are mixed messages, misunderstandings, and waiting around for an answer. Barker said "our anxiety increases if we don't get that instantaneous response."

According to a 2011 article from the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, too much time online can cause another health problem. It says "the intensity of the online world is thought to be a factor that may trigger depression in some adolescents."

"There is a loneliness that can occur from a one-sided conversation is really what is happening through social media too is one-sided conversations," Barker told us. "We may get feedback but it's not the same that happens when you are face-to-face with someone."

Reummele said "I think it is critical that people have the ability to communicate one-on-one and in person with each other."

It's a skill he not only wants his kids to have, but also one he says brings in contributions for the annual Kiwanis auction. "I don't think we would be as successful if we tried to do that all via email or some sort of social media," Reummele said.

Still, he called social media a "double-edged sword." It has its benefits, helping Kiwanis bring in new members that wouldn't otherwise know the organization existed.

The way Reummele and Barker described it, time online is all about balance. Don't talk to a real person for long enough, and you may just forget how.

"The longer you don't do something the harder it becomes," Barker said.

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