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Technology Killing Small Talk in Yorkshire


2:30pm 30th May 2013

Hearing the famous Yorkshire dialect on the street could become rare as a third of people in the Yorkshire region become distinctly uncomfortable having to talk to anyone they don’t already know, it emerged yesterday.

Furthermore, 20 per cent of people in the region will only talk to someone they don’t know as a very last resort and only if they need help - and that’s after they’ve searched on their phone or called a friend with no success.

A study by York-based mutual healthcare provider Benenden Health, into the changing trends of Britain’s social habits, found small talk in our own communities is fast becoming a thing of the past as the surge in online communication takes its toll.

Nearly half of those surveyed in the Yorkshire region felt they had a much reduced need to communicate in person because of the amount they can do online.

In fact, 39 per cent stated they are now much more comfortable interacting with people online than they are in person.

A fifth of people also said they believed the ability to chat face to face with those we’re unfamiliar with is no longer essential.

Paul Keenan, Head of Communications at Benenden Health said: “Is online social networking causing the death of small talk? Our study shows a spiraling decline in face-to-face communication with over a third of people describing friendly small talk as a chore.

“Meanwhile, a significant proportion of people are completely shying away altogether from making small talk or interacting with people they don’t know.

“To an extent, the rapid rise and ever-changing concept of online communication is naturally replacing traditional face-to-face contact. Whilst this is bringing people closer together online and speeding up communication over long distances, the potential effect this may have on social skills whilst out and about should not be underestimated.”

Many of the 2,000 people surveyed across the UK believed small talk to be unimportant with four in ten describing common actions like talking about the weather or asking if someone had a good journey as pointless or awkward.

In the survey carried out across the UK it was found that the most turned to topics for excruciating filler conversation or pleasantries were the weather, public transport performance and holidays.

The research, commissioned by Benenden Health uncovered a host of throw-away phrases the average person uses on autopilot – ‘thank you’ ‘have a good day’ and ‘nice to see you’ were the phrases people confessed to using most without meaning it.

More than half the study admitted they go to some lengths to try to deter people they don’t know from talking to them – pretending to look at their phone, using a book or putting headphones in were the most common ways of trying to look unapproachable.

Three in ten people said their first thought if someone approached them to talk in the street was usually that the person must be ‘dodgy’ and the same number felt stressed at the thought of talking to someone new.

Also 21 per cent of people said that if they saw a stranger in need of help in their local area, they would not step in and try to help them.

One third of people say the bulk of their communication is done online or by electronic means rather than face to face.

More than half the study felt they weren’t as strong at talking to people as they should be and, similarly, 53 per cent said they get uncomfortable at talking to someone they don’t know well on the phone or in person.

While 47 per cent were more comfortable in turning to online communities and felt they participate more here than they do in their offline existence.

Paul Keenan added: “It is staggering that nearly half of us are becoming more comfortable interacting with people online than in person and this demonstrates both the positive and negative impact of online communities. We’re closer together – especially when friends and family live in different countries – but we shouldn’t lose sight of our social skills in talking ‘over the shop counter’.

“Looking at the positives, despite the evolution of the way we communicate, communities both offline and online are still in abundance. For example, our own community at Benenden Health has a membership of more than 900,000 people across the UK.

“The ethos of mutuality which is central to Benenden Health firmly rests on individuals coming together to assist others when they need help the most. This is something which we actively promote and believe still has a place in modern society. Benenden Health embraces member engagement both offline through our branch network and online through our website and social networks.

“And finally, the fact that ultimately our research still shows that three quarters of people would help a stranger if they saw they were in need is encouraging and demonstrates that there is still a place for community spirit in society.”

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