Communication in the Internet era: Social media above all?

As we humans are by nature social creatures, communication seems to be a vital part of our lives; we literally strive to express our needs, desires, and interests (Onyeator & Okpara, 2019). Consequently, the way we communicate developed drastically throughout the history; from cave paintings, then telegraphs to today’s (Facebook) Messenger, Instagram, and TikTok posts. All these “platforms” – and many others, usually used simultaneously – serve as a key base of how we interact with each other, gain information, and learn new things. Especially for the youth, the digital age has contributed to a permanent urge to be online 24/7 on as many social sites as possible just to make sure not to miss anything “really exciting” happening in the big wide world, meaning that as Baym (2015:3) recently put it “we may be physically present in one space, yet mentally and emotionally engaged elsewhere“ in the online space. Hence, as communication is ever-present in today’s digital age our devices demand our constant attention, replacing and/or overturning the old ways of gaining information, working, relaxing, having fun, and socialising. Plainly, communication has gone digital like never before, but has the manner of our communication changed so much?

Communication 21th century

Image from Unsplash.com

The evolution of interpersonal communication?

Communication forms and norms change together with humanity; rapid technological innovation has lately created newer and newer platforms for information to spread and people to communicate. The digital evolution peaked during the recent COVID-19 crises when people were forced to find alternatives to their old habits in nearly all parts of their lives (see also our previous article). However, the implementation of online technologies into our daily lives was mostly successful in bridging the geographical gap between people, shaping our modern society; the extra dependence on these digital channels ultimately resulted in a shortening of interpersonal communication with face-to-face conversations becoming fewer and shorter than ever (Onyeator & Okpara, 2019).

 

On the one hand, in our present era due to the Internet and smart gadgets (together with the Apps on them), in the world of blogs, social sites, and search engines most of the individuals are empowered to transfer and communicate information freely; express ideas, form opinions, create (artistic) content, participate in research; to share their views with others, and build on the ideas of others, all which would have been difficult or nearly impossible before the technology became widely available.

 

On the other hand, many feel that step by step we have started to lose the joy of real conversation with all its advantages. With shortened conversations, longer, quality talks are coming close to extinction, whereas misunderstandings and conflicts have become common. One of the biggest problems with this digital ‘new normal’ is that the other side usually receives only a static text the original, intended message can easily get lost or misinterpreted in the absence of tone non-verbal signs such as voice tone or body language which carry about 38% and 55% of the entire message respectively (see also our previous article). In the same vein, a written sentence without further clues can be easily taken out of context and a line, typed with capital letters (CapsLock on) may hit a tone that may not have been intended – both unfortunate (online) examples where the damage can be fatal. Even if it is possible to make amends (“Once on the Internet, always on the Internet”), the mitigation usually is a challenging, money and time-consuming process (just imagine a wrongly sent business e-mail to one of the key partners or a coincidently sent one to one of our exes…).

The impact of the Internet (social media) on the way we communicate

The evolution of communication

Source: Own design

As the chart above illustrates time and evolving technology indeed had some sort of influence on the way we communicate today, but is that so different from what we had back in the old days? 

 

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Author:

Griszbacher Norbert

Article Writer & Content Contributor

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The opinions expressed in this article/publication are those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of GiLE or its members.

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