Has the advent of modern instantaneous global communication (email, IM, text messaging) been a boon or bane to society? Are the short term advantages worth the long term disadvantages? Or, is it merely a horizontal shift in the paradigm of inter-personal communication rather than a vertical shift? I have minimal scientific facts on the matter, but I would like to put forth some of my own opinions.
If you think about how the oft cited study by UCLA that says up to 93% of the effectiveness of communication is non-verbal relates to modern communication, (7% verbal, 38% vocal, 55% body language) it’s pretty clear that there’s something left to be desired in the way we communicate. Now that’s not saying 93% of the information is non-verbal, but it’s the effectiveness of the conversation. (You can’t take the words out of a conversation and expect to get 93% of the intended meaning. ) Obviously the content of the message would greatly affect this percentage; a technical conversation would be affected less than a personal one.
What does that mean? That means that a large portion of our conversations require the skill of reading body language and vocal but non-verbal (volume and pitch) cues. Since modern communication eliminates these cues, the speed at which, and the level of skill one achieves through practice is greatly diminished. In effect, this would retard the social development of a person at a rate dependent on the level of modern communication one uses. I’m thinking kids and technically savvy adults. I have personally seen these effects. The quality of social interaction I have with people that fall into this group is noticeably different, almost lacking.
Now obviously one’s inherent extroversion and “sociability” could mitigate this effect, but the effect is still there. Another notable difference in modern communication is it’s short, clipped nature. This encourages shallow and meaningless exchanges, resulting in a lack of deep interpersonal relationships. Carrying on a rewarding conversation with someone requires attention and involvement. Modern communication’s bias against these things would cause an eventual disinterest in the feelings and emotions of others. Also the instantaneous nature of this communication would promote impatience.
When people are constantly involved in new and exciting meaningless conversations, little time or desire is left for them to seek out relationships that would be truly rewarding. Without any kind of attachment to other people, it’s much easier to concentrate on their negative aspects. If one were to establish a deep emotional friendship with someone, the feelings they would develop for that person would instill a desire to see the good in them. Now obviously modern communication has its place. Our wives texting us to pick up a gallon of milk on the way home from work will not erode the social fabric of humanity.
Sending an email to a workmate to confirm a scheduled meeting time will not rend social norms. But I think the continued replacement of meaningful personal conversation by modern communication is a detriment to our social development as a whole. Just think about it. Picking up the phone (and talking on it) increases the effectiveness of your conversation from 7% to 45%, and talking to someone in person increases that to 100%. Isn’t it worth that small effort to develop strong attachments to our close friends and loved ones?