Monday, May 3, 2010

Relationships in the Internet Age

Commentary by walford

Journalism Professor Asks Students to Unplug
A professor at the University of Minnesota asked her students to turn off their iPods, cell phones and laptops and turn on the 8-track players, landlines and typewriters.

Last month, Heather LaMarre, assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, asked the students in her principles of strategic communication course to go five days without using technology created after 1984...

... the assignment made her realize being “plugged in” for things like interpersonal communication diminishes the relationship in some ways. “Relationships that we enter into now are so much more shallow because you have media in between,” Casey said.
It's not only the distance [and sometimes anonymity] that permits us to say things that we wouldn't to each others' faces. Instant electronic communication makes it so we can make snap judgments on personal matters of great significance. I have either personally experienced or seen others being dumped via e-mail, text message and even Instant Message. Then the person is set to ignore or block and the 'dump-ee' is left with emotional/spiritual tethers suddenly severed and hemorrhaging -- and left guessing as to why.

If there is later an opportunity to review the reason, it sometimes turns out this was due to a misunderstanding or a fleeting bout of nothing more than minor irritation. But by that time the damage is done and the relationship, if at all salvageable, is irretrievably tainted by wariness and distrust.

Some of us don't seem to be comfortable with expressing ourselves in person and retreat to our keyboards when resolving personal matters and that is very dangerous.

Some relationships are apparently a click away from oblivion. This necessitates devising coping mechanisms and methods of preemptive emotional-protection when so many of us have one e-foot out the door at all times. We still need security in our relationships and that quality is increasingly fleeting in this distant, impersonal and Balkanized electronic world.

As someone who was an adult in 1984, I can say that it was not as easy then to start and end relationships w/o the benefit of instant communications. People did get dumped via phone call, but it was rare and considered poor form.

One thing that hasn't changed is it hurts just as much. But it's not all bad.
However, technology has created a new familiarity in conversation, according to LaMarre, who said students noticed growing frustration among their friends and family because of their technological absence. For her students, LaMarre said anxiety from being out of touch was evident.

“They felt concerned they were missing out on something in life,” LaMarre said. To treat this anxiety, Casey said she had a friend check her e-mail on the third day. She had 225 unread e-mails. “After she told me how many e-mails I missed, I had to give in and check them,” Casey said.

With things like e-mail, Casey said technology adds convenience to conversation, but it should not be something necessary to function.
The ability to communicate with each other via new methods can be an enhancement if we are mindful of the risks as well as the benefits. E-mail is more "polite" than a phone call; the phone "demands" to be answered immediately while an e-mail can be answered at leisure. And these days, to show up on someone's doorstep w/o the visit being remotely "cleared" beforehand is considered the very height of personal imposition. Instant messaging can also be less intrusive because a person can set their auto-response message that will say that they will "brb" or are busy at the moment.

Remote electronic communication can therefore be helpful, but only if they are understood and utilized for purposes appropriate to the particular means.

A message board is a good place to air strongly held views candidly as an anonymous participant in a spirited discussion w/o concern of repercussion spilling into one's personal or professional life. A social networking site is a good venue to stay in touch with selected friends and exchange quasi-personal information that's not too sensitive.

An e-mail should be considered an electronic memo; it is a good means to set up appointments and issue formal communications that are best put into writing. An instant message chat is a good venue to exchange light banter. Cell phone text messages are good for even lighter chat or to help find each other for a pre-arranged meeting.

When these remote electronic communications become the primary venues for significant personal matters, then the danger arises of us having our relationships being more fragile and shallow.

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