From emails to instant messaging to social networking, today's society has a larger variety of methods of communication than ever before. While that's led to a dramatic increase in the speed and quantity of interpersonal communication, it can also lead to more misinterpretation and other negative effects.
Communicating online means you'll often be sharing personal information. Everything you share on the Web gets stored somewhere, and that information could put you at personal or financial risk if it gets in the wrong hands. Computer hackers are increasingly savvy at gleaning credit card or financial information by gathering your phone number, email address and other personal information, and that could set you up for identity theft. Likewise, giving people you don't know access to your social media profiles could mean they'll know where you live or work before you're ready to share that information. Consider the 2014 Heartbleed security breach, in which Internet security experts discovered a virus that allowed hackers to access usernames, passwords, encryption keys and computer memory, and you'll get an idea of what is at risk.
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Unlike having a face-to-face conversation, communicating online requires you to have Internet access. When that Internet, email or social media access is limited, it can mean you'll receive delayed responses to your inquiries. In some cases, it can even mean you don't receive important emails or instant messages. While those instances can be rare, they're no less inconvenient. When well-known email provider Gmail went down for less than two hours, experts at Google considered that a "big deal," and took steps to prevent it from happening to that extent in the future.
In face-to-face communication, several elements come into play to foster good communication, including non-verbal cues and tone of voice. When someone says something in a gruff tone, you'll generally understand that he's upset. Likewise, crossed arms or a pinched face can indicate someone is not comfortable. In online communication, you won't have those luxuries. Instead, people sometimes rely on punctuation or even emoticons such as the smiley face to share moods or emotions. This is an evolving aspect of online communication, and one some people are more attuned to than others. Typing in all capital letters, for example, might be interpreted as shouting to one person, while another person won't consider that rude or overbearing at all. If there's room for misinterpretation, it might simply be better to make that phone call, suggests researcher Nicholas Epley, PhD, of the University of Chicago.
Scientific evidence is mounting that the advent of smartphones and social networking is having a detrimental effect on interpersonal skills. According to a study conducted by Cornell University sociologist Matthew Brashears and published by ABC News, people tend to socialize more these days, but have fewer closer friends. Another study, sponsored by JDate.com and ChristianMingle.com and detailed in USA Today, found that about one-third of adults prefer to ask for dates via text instead of calling. In short, online communication may be making it more difficult for people to communicate in the more traditional one-on-one or face-to-face manner.
- Washington State Office of the Attorney General: Communicating Online
- BBC: Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Email
- University of Colorado: Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict: Misinterpretation of Communication
- ABC News: More Facebook Friends, Fewer Real Ones, Says Cornell Study
- USA Today: Cellphones and Texting Have Blown Up the Dating Culture
- Vocativ: Behind the Scenes: The Crazy 72 Hours Leading Up to the Heartbleed Discovery
- Official Gmail Blog: More on Today's Gmail Issue
- American Psychological Association: Emails and Egos