Lentis/Communication Technology and Interpersonal Relationships
As technology has increased over the years so has our interaction with it to improve the rest of our lives. Social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter allow users to send messages to friends or broadcast a piece of information almost instantaneously. While improved technology such as social media allows users to stay in touch with more people through a digital medium, the amount and quality of otherwise regular face-to-face interactions have declined.
History of Communication Technology
The modern alphabet first started with the invention of the Phoenician alphabet around the time of 15th century BC. The Phoenician alphabet had influences in predecessors like the Latin and Greek alphabet. While the invention of the alphabet was effective in recording stories and ideas, there was no effective medium to distribute writings. Early writing materials included animal hides, birch bark, clay, wax, cloth, and metal. Going into the Middle Ages, paper-like materials, such as papyrus, became more commonplace. This made the activity of writing more accessible to the general population because paper-like materials were easier to use and obtain. Johannes Gutenberg was "the first man to demonstrate the practicability of movable type" in the middle of the 15th century. This was called the printing press and it had the ability to mass produce any written document in a unprecedentedly fast time. In 1969, the first email was sent out by the United States government’s computer network, ARPAnet. The system used packet switching and node-to-node communication to deliver its first message from one computer to another. Compared to mail taking days to be delivered, email could now be received in a matter of seconds. While email was definitely a quick alternative to traditional mail, people could only receive and view email when they were at an appropriate computer. SMS texting became the technology which filled this void by improving the accessibility of written communication. The first SMS text message, “Merry Christmas”, was sent out in December of 1992 by Neil Papworth. This marked the beginning of an era where the concept of someone being in constant communication with the outside world was feasible.
Direct Communication in Interpersonal Relationships
Face-to-face interaction “takes place in a context of co-presence; the participants in the interaction are immediately present to one another and share a common spatio-temporal reference system.” That is, participants in a face-to-face conversation are within a small distance of each other and are able to communicate back and forth. Face-to-face interaction isn’t just about talking either, in fact “only a small percentage of communication involves actual words: 7%, to be exact. In fact, 55% of communication is visual (body language, eye contact) and 38% is vocal (pitch, speed, volume, tone of voice).” Therefore, there is a lot to be lost when interacting through other mediums. Not only is face-to-face interaction imperative for interpersonal experiences but at the same time it is “basic to the establishment, maintenance, and development of most social groups, institutions, and cultures.” This means that an overall reduction of the quality of in person experiences will negatively affect everyone through some social medium or another.
The Five Social Skills Technology is Destroying
- Eye contact - being able to sustain it well, as well as know when it’s appropriate, is crucial
- Ability to speak on the phone (not texting or the like) - professional phone conversations, being able to introduce yourself and get straight to the point
- Conversation - asking questions, actively listening, being able to read others’ social cues
- Spatial awareness - attention to everything happening around you
- Attention span - sustained interest and enthusiasm
Social Media and Communication
Case Study: A Day Without Media
"24 Hours: Unplugged" The International Center for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA) asked 200 students at the University of Maryland, College Park to abstain from using all media for 24 hours. Among the students, many showed signs of withdrawal, craving and anxiety along with an inability to function well without their social media links.
Addiction to Media
"We were surprised by how many students admitted that they were 'incredibly addicted' to media," said Susan D. Moeller, a journalism professor and director of the ICMPA. Students described their reactions to the “unplugged” 24 hours in literally the same terms associated with drug addictions: In withdrawal, Frantically craving, Very anxious, Extremely antsy, Miserable, Jittery, Crazy.
Research showed that Generation Y suffers from three out of Griffiths’ six components that determine behavioral addiction, while companies such as ReSTART dedicate to treating excessive use of the Internet, video gaming and texting.
Connectivity through Technology
The study found that the friendships and relationships these 18- to 21-year-olds were dependent on technology. The feeling of seclusion from the world caused most anxiety in students. When cut off from social media, many students felt cut off from other humans and lived in isolation. “Although I go to a school with thousands of students,” one student wrote, “The fact that I was not able to communicate with anyone via technology was almost unbearable.”
More In-Person Interactions
Quite a few students observed an unexpected awareness to the aspects of life they have been oblivious to. Face-to-face interactions replaced facebooking and more valuable time was spent with friends and families. As a student pointed out, those who aren’t connected to media have “better people-skills because they have their conversations the old-fashioned way, not through texting.“
The young generations place an unprecedented priority on cultivating an instant connection with friends and families, which has become a prefered form of contact due to its speed and controllability. The ICMPA study shows that much of that energy is going towards cultivating a digital relationship with people who could be met face-to-face. Although SMS and Facebook aim to facilitate connections, the dependency on social media makes young generations unable to communicate or operate in the world as they had become accustomed.
Problems of Social Media
The wide proliferation of social media with its versatile functionality to outreach to people is fundamentally changing the way teenagers communicate. While social media becomes an integral part of adolescent life, risks arise from media use including cyber bullying, sexting, relationship abuse, and negative effects on mental health.
Cyberbullying -- The social media creates potential to target and bully an individual. About half of young people have experienced some form of cyber bullying, and 10 to 20 percent experience it regularly.
Sexting -- The prevalence of video cameras on computer and cell phones is correlated with the increase in sexting. With indirect communication, teens cannot see the reaction of the person receiving the message, so their actions can be separated from the consequences, leading to irresponsible actions. According to National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 20% aged 13-19 say they have sent nude or semi-nude images of themselves.
Mental Health -- While most regular media users get along with friends and family, the heaviest media users report being less content and are more prone to mental health problems (Rideout, 2010). Girl Scout Study showed that 68% of girls nationally had negative experiences on a social networking site, while some teens have reported that Facebook can incite fights.
Cell Phones and Communication
Evolution of Smart Phones
Starting with the IBM Simon Personal Communicator in 1993, the concept of a “smart phone” paved the way for a revolution of communication. The year 2002 featured the first touchscreen on the Sony Ericsson P800 and Internet access through the Nokia 6100. The iPhone and Android phone became the faces of smart phone usability upon their releases in 2007 with auto-rotate sensors, multi-touch sensors that allowed multiple inputs while ignoring minor touches, and touch interfaces that replaced the traditional QWERTY keyboards. The rise of smart phones also gave way to a market for mobile applications--the integration of apps such as Facebook and Twitter on one’s cell phone has become commonplace in modern times.
The number of smart phones across the United States has risen enormously since the beginning of the decade. A 2012 survey showed that 44% of Americans owned a smart phone, and projected the number to rise to 57% by 2013. 68% of those surveyed that owned a smart phone responded that they “could not live without it”.
With the advancement of communication technology, the need for a “digital etiquette” has become equally as prominent. This etiquette in technology, as a social code of network communication, governs what conduct is socially acceptable in an online or digital situation. Because communication technology circumvents the interpretation of human elements such as body language and facial expression, defining a set of standards for them is a constant challenge.
One such example of a digital etiquette is network or Internet etiquette, named netiquette(netiquette) for short. As with Internet itself, the norms of netiquette are in flux, but foundationally encourage “core rules” such as spell checking, avoiding spamming or typing in all caps, and disengaging from flamewars.
Pertaining to mobile devices, cell phone and smart phone etiquettes dictate principles like silencing rather than vibrating, never texting while driving, and using a soft tone of voice when speaking.
Text messaging as a primary form of communication has resulted in a shift of how social interactions are established and perceived. One clear area in which this change is evident is in the dating realm. A USA Today survey of 1500 people resulted in 31% of male respondents and 33% of female respondents preferring to ask or be asked on a date via text than a more personal method of communication such as a phone call or a face-to-face conversation. According to Millenial author Ruthie Dean, “We really see this generation as having a huge handicap in communication... We don't know how to express our emotions, and we tend to hide behind technology, computers and social media... A text message is easier. You can think exactly what you want to say and how to craft it. When they are face-to-face or over the phone, there's this awkwardness.”
The evolution of communication via innovations in medial technology has allowed for users to be connected to more people at a faster rate. As people have grown accustomed to social media and smart phones, however, their reliance on these third parties as a method of communication has begun to undermine the development and use of their interpersonal social skills. Social norms and etiquettes are slowly being adopted to counter the social shortcomings of these technologies.
- Phoenician Alphabet, Mother of Modern Writing, http://phoenicia.org/alphabet.html
- Kreis, S. (April 13, 2012) The Printing Press. http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/press.html
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- NY Daily News. July 23, 2013. The Do's and Don't's of Cell Phone Etiquette.
- Jayson, Sharon. July 18, 2013. Cell Phones and Texting Have Blown Up the Dating Culture. USA Today.
- Dean, Ruthie. July 12, 2011. Real Men Don't Text: The Lost Art of Chivalry.