Spring is here. The streets in Istanbul used to ring with the laughter and shouts of children playing out in the gentle sun. Today, most city neighborhoods are bereft of children, like a ghost town. The only time you see children is when they are scurrying back and forth to school.
This is the age of technology, computers and robots. Infants and toddlers are soothed by lullabies or videos on their parents' phones or tablets. They quickly learn how to control these devices by swiping - not an action that is natural to human beings.
Times are changing. Times have always changed. First fire and agriculture, iron, the wheel, steam engines and the list goes on. With changing times, how people interact and communicate has also changed. From writing on clay tablets we have come to an age of writing on electronic tablets. One of the most significant changes today is that people communicate more via Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp or email than they do face to face.
There have always been those who have lamented the unrelenting progress of humanity. The Amish rejected modern inventions. The Luddites broke machinery to try to stem the Industrial Revolution. Progress frightens many as it makes them unsure where the world is going.
Without question, both the industrial and technological revolutions have made our lives easier, but with each new invention something is lost.
For example, bar codes have made stocking and ordering easier for business owners. They have enabled supermarkets to become huge warehouses staffed by a skeleton staff. It has made the lives of cashiers easier as they no longer have to read the price tag but just wave the product over a screen and all the product information is fed into the computer.
This is until something goes wrong, like if the bar code is damaged or illegible or some human component has forgotten to put a bar code on the product. Then the cashier has to read the illegibly small numbers, which go on forever, into the computer or call some phantom assistant who will roll up on their skates - eventually - with a new bar code.
In the days before bar codes there would also be items with no price tags. But the process to get the price was a bit different. The cashier would use the PA system to call to a colleague, "Mike, need a price check." Mike would stroll up, smile at the customer, take the item and go check it. The cashier and the customer would chat, passing time or more often than not, the cashier would know the price and just type it in.
That is gone. The ability to fill time in with small talk, to have a chat about something or nothing, this is a skill we are losing.
Taking pictures of food has become a pre-meal ritual.
Social skills are on the wane. This is because social skills are something that we learn, drummed into our heads from an early age. Young children have always been challenged by social skills. "Thank the nice lady." "Say hello." "Say goodbye." "Say please." "Say thank you." "Look me in the eye when I am talking to you."
But add to this constant battle the fact that children spend most of their free time not with other children, playing ball or house, negotiating rules and positions, but with machines. A robot or a computer will not take their ball and go home if you upset them or not play by the rules. They will not say, "My mother is calling me, so I have to go" when they feel slighted. Children are no longer constantly challenged by their peers to develop social skills.
Are social skills obsolete? Do we really need them? Won't we all be working in factories or at computers anyway? So the loss of social skills is surely just part of evolution, and we should not react like the Luddites or even the Amish, going and building a community where people still have to interact.
Unfortunately, no matter how much technological progress this world sees and as long as we have a society comprised of people living together, people need to interact.
Social skills are what we use to communicate and interact with other human beings. These skills can be verbal or nonverbal. In fact, body language, the nonverbal component of social skills, is an important component in day to day interactions.
Social skills improve our relationships with other people. Well-developed social skills can help us to get a job and make friends. Having positive relationships with other human beings make us happier and give us a more positive outlook on life.
When we are born we do not have social skills. We cannot speak, we cannot use body language nor even look someone in the face. Children soon learn that looking someone in the eye and smiling gets them a great deal. Crying also is a really good tool to get what you want. As we grow, we practice our social skills, honing them, or not, to perfection. Children are taught to say please and thank you, to look people in the eye, to smile and to answer questions graciously.
It has been estimated that 80 percent or more of people who lose their jobs today do so due to lack of social skills. And conversely, people with good social and people skills soon find themselves promoted.
Some of the most important social skills for the work place include: Being able to take orders, being able to explain a problem clearly and concisely, being able to ask for help, accept feedback and constructive criticism, as well as being able to give constructive criticism and to give and receive compliments.
Today, these skills need to be practiced more than ever. Research has demonstrated that the very muscles we use in face-to-face encounters are being used much less today. There is a fear that children will grow up unable to handle spontaneous interaction which means they will be unable to deal with conflict. Melissa Ortega, a child psychologist, said she sees high school kids who come in for an appointment with her turn to their phones, checking updates constantly as an avoidance strategy.
But surely this is nothing more than hyperbole, hysteria and evolutionary panic. Such a reaction to kids and their phones is nothing more than the lament of the modern-day Luddite. Children are learning to communicate in a different way. Let's just relax and accept the changes. I would agree, except for one important factor.
The Industrial Revolution changed how societies functioned and how economies grew. Today, the technological revolution has made the service sector an ever-growing field of employment and development.
Some 70 percent of the U.S.' gross domestic product (GDP) is made up of "market sector" activities, while 56 percent consists of services. Indeed, it was found that the contribution the service sector has made in employment and value in the first 15 years of the century outweighs that of manufacturing. As consumers' demands for products become saturated, they turn to the service sector.
Manufacturing giant China has made it hard for developing countries to find a place in the market. They cannot compete with China's population and infrastructure. Therefore, countries like India, with a huge population, have taken on the roles of service providers.
The problem with services is that services only grow as middle classes grow. When people achieve a certain level of affluence, they will turn to the service sector to make their lives easier, faster and more comfortable.
This is true for traditional service industries, such as commercial enterprises, tourism and entertainment. These are areas in which there cannot be great growth, as such services are carried out on a one-to-one basis. But other areas, for example, software development, outsourced business processing and call centers, can employ thousands and are run on a huge scale.
There are many advantages to employing people in the service sector. Women, half the work force, can be more easily employed. Flexi-hours are easier to implement and services can be provided around the clock.
But the service sector does not offer employment for unskilled workers. Employees in the service sector often need to have university degrees or higher and all employees in this sector must have well-honed social skills.
The service sector is a growing area of employment and income for many countries, but if the people working in the service sector do not have good social skills, the services they provide will fail. Customers looking for something to make their lives more comfortable or more luxurious will not return if they are not greeted warmly, if there is no eye contact, no politeness, no small talk and no interaction.
Today more than ever young people need to be schooled in social skills. The way most young people live - connected to a machine most of their waking and sleeping hours - means they do not get in-house training, i.e. from family or among friends. Schools must step in to ensure that children learn how to greet one another, praise others, receive praise, disagree or agree politely and listen to others. These skills will be extremely important for their future employment. They may well be required to work as part of a team and social skills are essential in making teams work. Or they may have to deal with customers all day, be it on the phone or face to face. As we find fewer and fewer people to talk to every day, any encounter that we have with a real human being becomes that much more significant. As a result, when such an encounter is unsatisfactory, we become frustrated, sad or even angry. And when such an encounter is positive, when a person greets us, smiles at us, asks us how we are, when a person thanks us and makes us feel good about ourselves, we feel happy and positive.
Teaching people to have social skills sounds like a win-win deal. We can make human encounters more pleasant by simply teaching a few essential social skills to our younger generation. And we just might be able to secure a happier future.