Over the past decade developments in technology have greatly changed the way in which individuals communicate. In one aspect, it has allowed for individuals to communicate more frequently and with more immediacy, and some argue, more “openness”. As Hessey and Patmore (2011) tell us, “Being ‘social’ in today’s world is multi-dimensional. Among the most common ‘dimensions’ are: sharing experiences via pictures and videos on a Social Networking Site, commenting on the news or politics via a status message on Twitter, reporting on life via a Blog, or adding to the knowledge base of the planet via Wikipedia” (p.1). On the other hand, communication technology has become so pervasive that it has started to replace face-to-face and real life communication. As with any advancement or development, we must look at many aspects of communication technology in order to see exactly how it has both positively and negatively affected the way in which people communicate.
The openness of communication technology has allowed individuals to connect with others and express themselves in ways that were not possible in previous years. The advancements in communication technology “sites allow people to share information and photos with others, regardless of the physical miles that otherwise may have prevented them from doing so. This allows grandparents to see updates and pictures of grandchildren instantly, rather than waiting for the pictures to arrive in the mail. In addition, the use of social networking sites allows people to reconnect with others they may have lost contact with over the years” (Orth, 2014). Orth (2014) goes on to explain that online chat forums can help people converse with individuals across the street or on the other side of the word “in real time without picking up a telephone,” that “people can send an email message and quickly get a response whereas sending other written correspondence may require a longer turnaround time,” that “Placing video calls make it possible for families to see each other despite the physical miles that may separate them” and how “Businesses can save money by using video calls rather than traveling to specific destinations” (Orth, 2014). Communication technology offers people widespread communication which allows for easier, faster, and more cost-effective ways to connect.
I have seen the benefits of communication technology in my own life very recently. Two weeks ago my Uncle Mort, one of the last remaining relatives on my mother’s side, was sent to hospice because his cancer had spread too far and he would be leaving us soon. Uncle Mort lives in California, wherein my family lives in Connecticut, and we were unable to fly all the way out to see him to say our goodbyes. Instead, his son, Cam, set up his laptop for Uncle Mort and we were able to Skype with him in order to talk with him one more time and say our goodbyes. While it was incredibly sad and bittersweet, it was an experience that would not have been possible without the advancements in communication technology.
While there are tremendous benefits to the utilization of communication technologies in our everyday lives, there are also some downfalls to such an all-encompassing and pervasive communication system. One of the largest concerns researchers have about society’s use of communication technology is the decline in face-to-face or real-life interactions. Studies have found that individuals, but children especially, are spending so much time communicating via technology that they are no longer developing basic communication skills. Researchers are “concerned about how easy it is for people to use the technology instead of interacting more directly without thinking about what — or who — they’re losing meaningful connection within the process, be it their parents, children or spouses” (Johnson, 2014). As Keller (2013) states, “our social connections are not strengthened as much through social media as they are face-to-face, so we don’t tend to deepen our relationships” and “when individuals spend more time with their smartphone than interacting with the people around them, to the detriment of those face-to-face relationships”.
Other concerns researchers have are that “we tend to follow and interact with people who agree with our points of view, so we aren’t getting the same diversity of viewpoints as we’ve gotten in the past,” which means that we really are not engaging in communication in order to enhance and expand our beliefs, ideas, and experiences, but rather to reinforce our own current beliefs (Keller, 2013). In addition to this, “Some commentators speculate that an excessive use of communications technologies can lead to distractions from the things we should be doing” (Hessey & Patmore, 2011, p.2). Research has shown that individuals are having an increasing difficult time balancing their work-life responsibilities because of communication technology and how easy it has become to access virtually anyone or anything. Some working individuals spend hours at work on Facebook, connecting with friends and family members, instead of doing their jobs. Because of this, they then end up having to spend some of their home-life time doing work in order to catch up with assignments that were not completed during the work day.
While it is true that communication technologies allow people to “communicate more often with family and friends because of technology,” researchers argue that “the quality of that communication may be weaker” (Johnson, 2014) and that, “our interactions on social media tend to be weak ties—that is, we don’t feel as personally connected to the people at the other end of our communication as we do when we’re face-to-face” (Keller, 2013). However, communication technology has also allowed individuals numerous benefits as well. People can keep in touch with friends and family quicker and easier, and in ways that were not possible even ten years ago. As Keller (2013) reminds us, “the negativity surrounding social media is countered by positive influences, including the ability to communicate with more people across greater distances and with increased speed” allowing for more connections and increased communication throughout the world.
Hessey, S., & Patmore, J. (2011, February 23). Communications Today – Evolution or Revolution? Retrieved October 29, 2014.
Johnson, C. (2014, August 29). Face time vs. screen time: The technological impact on communication. Retrieved October 24, 2014.
Keller, M. (2013, May 17). Social Media and Interpersonal Communication. Retrieved October 26, 2014.
Orth, M. (2014, January 1). Technology & How We Communicate. Retrieved October 28, 2014