Social Networking: Hurting Our Social Lives?

Texting, twittering and emailing are all forms of digital communication meant to keep us in constant contact in the quickest and most efficient manner. With it, we are able to tell our friends and family when we can go to dinner and which restaurant we should eat at; and our coworkers why we’re running late and what time we’ll make it to the meeting. It’s practical and has in some respects made person-to-person communication easier than ever before.

However, as digital communication has become increasingly popular with advancements in technology in recent years, whether or not this form of communication is good for society has become somewhat questionable. How is this ubiquitous, yet brief form of socialization affecting our relationships? Many psychologists fear that the constant use of such communication is contributing to anxiety, distraction and above all, impersonal relationships.

Changing the Way We Socialize

Some argue that in participating in such socialization, that being written, not spoken; we are not getting the full experience of communication. We are not hearing the anger, passion or excitement in our friends’ voices, as reading acronyms like “LOL” is very different from hearing actual laughter. As a result, some researchers worry that we will begin to forget certain social cues like facial expression. Since we don’t smile or frown when sending a text, some fear that when in placed social situations where these cues are appropriate, we can forget to use them.

Another concern is the amount that digitally communicated messages can convey. Receivers of a text or email can only get the bare minimum of a message as the tone can be difficult to decipher; sarcasm, jest and anger are nearly imperceptible unless the receiver is extremely familiar with the sender. Some psychologists believe that this can lead to confusion and doubt in our relationships, as well as our ability to properly assess social situations.

Researchers also suggest that is difficult have meaningful conversations through digital communication, which can ultimately affect our quality of life. Recent studies conducted by professors at the University of Arizona have shown that people who are happy have twice as many substantive conversations than those who are unhappy. Substantial conversations create feelings of belonging and understanding which ultimately lead to happiness. However these can be difficult to have over text and email.

Individual vs. Impersonal Messages

Twitter, a newer form of digital communication which allows users to update their friends about what they are doing and how they are feeling in 160 characters or less. In one sense Twitter promotes communication in that users are actively socializing by seeking connection. Yet the communication that it promotes in largely impersonal given that users are writing messages intended for a mass audience, meaning there is nothing personal about it.  The messages are not directed at a specific individual, so it can therefore be argued that they have less meaning. The same can be said of mass emails or texts.

Advantages to Digital Communication

However Twitter, text and email do have extremely practical and in some cases, potentially save saving advantages. During the recent tsunami evacuation in Hawaii, in which as many as 50,000 people left the island of Oahu, the Honolulu Emergency Management Department used digital networking to get the word of evacuation out. According to the New York Times, Pacific Tsunami Warning center geophysicist Brian Shiro sent approximately 500 tweets during the evacuation, all of which could have helped saved countless lives had the tsunami hit.

How It Works For Us

Despite some of the negative impacts digital communication may have on our relationships and the way we socialize, the advantages are impossible to ignore and it is doubtful that we would ever want to reverse the changes in technology that led to text and email. For technology does not have to dictate how we behave. The way we choose to use these innovations in digital communication and how they affect our relationships is ultimately up to us.

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  1. great article….some good points

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