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Heather Fitzmorris English Composition The Evolution of Interpersonal Communication “Many American youth say that Internet communication, especially instant messaging, has become an essential feature of their social lives. Relationships are now nourished by the ease and speed of instant message exchanges and e-mail messages. Difficult conversations with friends are now mediated by the emotional distance the Internet provides” (Keaten 107-08). This quotation details many of the ways society has been impacted in recent years. Over a very short amount of time, technology has changed the way that we communicate with the people around us. Social networking, advances in mobile devices, and a need to stay connected has greatly impacted the future of interpersonal communication. These different aspects not only effects the way that people communicate through technology, it also impacts the way that people interact with each other face to face. The use of technology effects social interactions for better and worse, and does so in a variety of ways. First, it is important to understand what interpersonal communication is, and how impacts individuals. Second, there are many effects and implications that technology brings to interpersonal communication. Finally, it is important to anticipate that technology will certainly impact the future of communication. To see the importance of the changes in the field, one must understand what interpersonal communication is. A very simple definition of interpersonal communication was offered in an interview with Suzanne Stromberg from the communication department at the University of Colorado Denver, who stated that it is “the process of two people interacting verbally and nonverbally” (Stromberg).


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The basic elements of interpersonal communication are who, what, where, when, and how (Thomas 109). In every exchange of communication, these basic elements are involved. They affect the interactions between individuals in many ways, whether the communicators are aware of it or not. These elements can complicate the social interaction through elements such as the certain social cues that come in to play, cultural background, or context of the environment such as noise or physical place (Stromberg). In this way, interpersonal communication is always contextual. “Communication does not happen in isolation” (King). In fact, there are several elements that change the context and outcome of a social interaction; psychological context (what each person brings to the interaction), relational context (concerns reactions to other person), situational context (psycho-social location communication takes place), environmental context (physical location communication takes place), and cultural context (learned behaviors and rules) (King). To better understand the ways in which communication is contextual, consider the following situation and the ways that the interaction is altered through the change in location. As a couple of friends spend time talking, the way they would interact at a public place like Starbucks may differ from that of someone’s home. They may be more aware of the noise they produce at Starbucks then they would be in someone’s home. In reference to cultural background, it is possible that the location would cause the communicators to censor their words more in a public place as compared to someone’s home. The friends, who are comfortable with each other, may use terms or repeat jokes that would be found offensive to people of certain backgrounds or ethnicities. It is possible that they may be more careful about the words they use in public, because in this culture, individuals are taught to be culturally sensitive to those around.


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Interpersonal communication is complicated, not only due to all of the outside elements, but also because each individual essentially makes each social interaction complex. According to Donnell King, “Theorists note that whenever we communicate there are really at least six "people" involved: 1) who you think you are; 2) who you think the other person is; 3) who you think the other person thinks you are; 4) who the other person thinks s/he is; 5) who the other person thinks you are; and 6) who the other person thinks you think s/he is,” (King). Because of this, interpersonal communication exchanges become very complex. Each individual must get past all of these forms of “people” to either express or understand an idea. Yet, it seems that all of the information known about interpersonal communication may become irrelevant in the years to come. With the growing industry of technology, the way that people interact on a personal level has begun to change. In the early stages of beginning to understand the ways that technology affects the processes involved in communication, there was an influential study done to determine the ways that communication would be altered or changed with the evolution of technology. The study concluded that, “Technology impacts fundamental communication processes and products. Technological innovation forces us to rethink our approach to topics such as influence, power, persuasion, group processes, the job search, written communication, oral presentation, and hierarchical relationships” (Thomas 109). Having established the fact that technology will play an influential role in the evolution of interpersonal communication, it is possible to explore these changes. Moving forward in the technological era, it is very important to understand the ways that technology will impact the way individuals communicate. Research shows that there are both positive and negative impacts made by the shift in interpersonal communication. But one thing is for certain: the changes will continue.


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Good and bad, one of the ways that technology has impacted interpersonal communication is through the increasing use of computer-mediated communication (CMC). In previous years, there had been a defined division between interpersonal communication and communication via technological media. But due to the changes in technology, it had become necessary to bridge the gap between interpersonal and media communication (Lievrouw 303-04). At some point, interpersonal communication began to be performed by mediation, and the idea of computer-mediated communication was successful at leading communication into media. Technology will play a positive role in moving interpersonal communication along with society for a number of reasons. First, technology has given society the tools to be constantly connected. Due to the sophistication of mobile devices, people are able to connect with others in ways like never before (Stromberg). First, with the availability of a cell phone, people were given the ability to contact others from anywhere on the go and not be tied to land lines any longer. People began to adapt to an “on the go� lifestyle, and communication adapted right along. The cell phone made conversations and connections with others more easily accessible, as calls could be made from anywhere, not just home. Continuing along the same lines, texting made the quick conversation and connection available from anywhere, no matter what each person was doing. A quick message could be exchanged, even if there was not time for a conversation. And now, more and more mobile devices are able to provide internet connections. This gives individuals the ability to connect through emails or through the booming social media industry. In fact, with so many social media outlets, it is possible for everyone to find an option. Social media can connect friends, lovers, professionals, and students and teachers. With so many means to connect, people are able to stay in touch with the people around them like never before.


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Another positive of technology and the opportunity for constant connection is the fact that people are participating in more communication. Rather then suffering socially from the use of the internet, there as been research to support the idea that it actually increases the amount of communication done by many individuals. One study found that the internet actually "adds another means of communication to the telephone and face-to-face contact …one that is often convenient and affordable" (Emanuel 17). In fact, that study found that more that 40% of college students say that use of the Internet has increased or greatly increased contact with family and friends, as opposed to only 5% commenting that it decreased this contact (Emanuel 17). Participants in online communication tend to employ a degree of separation from their real selves and who they appear to be online. This makes it easier for them to be straightforward with their communication, and possibly more honest (Stromberg). Studies have found that individuals prefer to use mediated channels such as e-mail or instant messaging in situations where self-presentation is threatened. Many expressed that they preferred having the opportunity to more carefully present their words, especially in the case of a negative message (Keaten 408). This degree of separation may also benefit adolescents who have difficulty expressing themselves in social setting. One clinical child pediatric psychologist explained that “sometimes kids who have social difficulties sometimes really flourish on Facebook and they're able to make relationships and friendships" (Gionet). Similarly, technology offers an alternative way to communicate with others for those who are shy and may be able to connect more openly with others through a form of CMC, as it may become “a means to alleviate their anxiety about face-to-face interaction” (Keaten 408). Scholars also suggest that “the lack of physical presence and perceptions of diminished negative evaluation enable shy persons to communicate with greater ease” (Keaten 408). Therefore, shy


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people begin to feel they are better communicators behind the mask of computer mediated communication. This has lead many people to use online communication in their personal relationships, which has resulted in more people that characterize themselves as shy to be involved in online dating then those who do not proclaim to be shy (Keaten 408). While there are many positives for becoming involved in interpersonal communication through technological outlets, there can also be negative results that are associated. One of the most relevant issues related to interpersonal communication through a technological outlet is cyber bullying. According to CBS news, more than 43 percent of teenagers now report being victims of cyber-bullying. This comes at a time when it has been reported that incidents of face to face bullying has gone down. This brings up the question of why cyber bullying has become such a problem. Kevin Everhart of the University of Colorado Denver's Psychology Department shared a possible explanation. “There aren't those sorts of checks and balances of a social environment of a peer group, or teachers or parents standing over who may catch and recognize and intervene sooner" (Gionet). Instead, a cyber bully can reach students anywhere, and the bullying can go on 24 hours a day. Cyber bullies tend to thrive in the secrecy that many mediated communication outlets offer. Another possible explanation in the escalation of cyber bullying is the fact that written text can appear to be very ambiguous. In some cases, words can be escalated and given harmful meaning, even if that is not what they were intended for, Everhart explained (Gionet). Another negative impact to consider would be the poverty of attention that seems to occur when engaging in a social interaction. It seems that there is an increasing problem with people being unable to detach from technology and have a real conversation with a friend. Instead, society has been taught that it is important to stay connected at all time. One scholar


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shared that it has come to the point where many individuals will converse with a friend, check their phone, “check their social network application, surf the net, watch television, and listen to their iPods all at more or less the same time” (Parks 725). It becomes impossible to have a real face to face conversation with all of those different distractions. Computer mediate communication can also bring new distractions when it comes to studying and completing homework. A study on the effects of the social accessibility in instant messaging found that many students admitted to procrastinating on homework assignments through participating in the online chat tool. One student explained it in this way: “You start an essay, and then you get bored, and then you put on MSN, and then you start talking to people because you’re hardly ever on, and then you finally have to sign off and go back to the essay. It’s just a good thing for procrastinating” (Quan-Haase 534). This idea has been taken to a new level with the popularization of social media outlets such as Facebook. With photos that friends post, game applications, as well as the chat tool, there are many ways that students can find themselves procrastinating. Continuing with these negative consequences surrounding the use of computer mediated communication, experts are also concerned that it will become more difficult to participate in face to face communication. As time spent on mediums such as the internet increases, there is the likely possibility that it will become more difficult for individuals to be motivated to engage in face to face communication. This may lead to detachment from peers and society over all. Research that was done to determine how the majority of college students spend their time communicating supports this concern; “Extrapolating the notion of displacement to the relationship between the Internet and the community suggests that those individuals who spend a


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lot of time consuming media in their private spaces will be unable and unlikely to participate in their local communities” (Emanuel 15). In addition to understanding the positive and negative impact of technology, it is also important to explore the ways that it will influence the field of communication in the future. It is hard to predict what the long term impact of the many new communication mediums will be, as research up to this point has only been based on the short term data. But even without substantial data, it is apparent that technology will continue to change communication. Scholars have begun to consider how it will be impacted in the future. For example, it has been noted that people who are connected online are usually connected offline as well. “What happens via new technology is completely interwoven with what happens face-to-face and via other media–the telephone, the television, films, music, radio, print” (Baym 721). All forms of communication seem to become connected. This will become influential because it has been apparent that online communication is impacted by offline communication. It will be interesting to see how online communication will impact offline communication. This is already seen in changes of speech, as many young people use abbreviated language that was began online, such as OMG or LOL. To add to the research above about how many people find themselves distracted by CMC, research will continue to better understand the effects of this on interpersonal communication and on society. In the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Malcom Parks explained that, “We know something about distraction effects, but we know very little about the effects, if any, of regular, simultaneous multimedia use on attention, problem-solving, and face-to-face interaction. We know very little about the motivations for simultaneous media


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use and very little about the strategies people use to manage the challenges of simultaneous media use.� (725-26) Interpersonal communication is a very complex field and has been influenced by many different factors. It has been impacted by the evolution of technology in a number of different ways, both positive and negative. Yet there is still a great deal of information to be found out as time continues. There are still many questions to answer that will help scholars better understand the effects technology has on interpersonal communication, and on communication as a whole. What is important for the future is that researchers continue to learn more about these impacts and influences. It is important to stay involved and aware of the changes and advances. Nancy K. Baym expressed her opinion on the matter; “We need a heightened self-awareness about communication, and what it means to study technology from where we stand rather than where others stand� (722).


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Works Cited Baym, Nancy K. "A Call for Grounding in the Face of Blurred." Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 14. (2009): 720–23. Print. Emanuel, Richard, et al. "How College Students Spend Their Time." The Intl. Journal of Listening. 22. (2008): 13-28. Print. Gionet, Alan. "Cyber-Bullying Is Different Than Face-To-Face." Denver CBS 4. CBS, 01 Oct 2010. Web. 10 Oct 2010. <http://cbs4denver.com/goodquestion/cyber.bullying.internet.2.1546481.html.> Keaten, James A., and Lynne Kelly. "‘‘Re: We Really Need to Talk’’: Affectfor Communication Channels,Competence, and Fear of Negative Evaluation." Communication Quarterly. 56.4 (2008): 407-26. Print. King, Donnell. "Four Principles of Interpersonal Communication." Soapbox Orations . King Communication, 2000. Web. 10 Oct 2010. <http://www.pstcc.edu/facstaff/dking/interpr.htm>. Lievrouw, Leah. "New Media, Mediation, and Communication Study." Information, Communication & Society. 12.3 (2009): 303-25. Print. Parks, Malcolm. "What Will We Study When the Internet." Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 14. (2009): 724–29. Print. Stromberg, Suzanne. Telephone Interview by Heather Fitzmorris. 28 Sept 2010. 10 Oct 2010 Thomas, Gail Fann. "Research Think Tank: "Complexiflying" International Communication and Communication Technology." Business Communicaion Quarterly. 60.4 (1997): 105-11. Print.


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http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/2027.42/66530/2/10.1177_108056999706000413 .pdf. Quan-Haase, Anabel, and Jessica L. Collins. "Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m there, but I might not want to talk to you." Information, Communication & Society. 11.4 (2008): 526â&#x20AC;&#x201C;43. Print.


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