Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Inter- Personal Communication in the Age of New Media: Social Media

The emergence of new media has had a tremendous impact on the way we communicate What we used to consider as new media has today evolved into what we call social media Websites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as text messaging and Skype, have enabled people to connect from distant locations at a speed unimaginable to generations passed These innovations in social communication are fundamentally changing the way businesses and governments operate, but they are also impacting our personal lives. By transforming our world into a “small village”, social media is increasing our global awareness and breaking down the barriers of nations, religions, and ethnic groups In many ways these developments have been positive As cultural awareness and familiarity increases, prejudice and mistrust seems to simultaneously decrease Unfortunately, improvements in the realms of convenience and understanding have come at the expense of our ability to effectively communicate in person In other words, applications such as Facebook, Twitter, and text- messaging, could potentially damage our ability to communicate effectively It is therefore important to understand and analyze all the different aspects of the new social media before coming to a conclusion regarding their utility in our society

With over 600 million users, Facebook was not the first, but it is certainly the largest of the social networking sites As the blockbuster film “Social Network” reveals, Face book started as a website aimed primarily at college students but has now become popular among junior high and high school students, as well as adults Facebook has re-united friends and families through its search mechanism Facebook has also have been of great utility to businesses that are trying to get a better understanding of who their potential customers are The “Like” button has been the key to a world of valuable consumer information

Facebook is obviously increasing the amount of time that people communicate but is it diminishing our abilities to communicate in person? Consider an article written by Lisa Valentine in the Star Tribune during the summer of 2009 Valentine, a school counselor, argues that the art of communication is being lost to technology She believes that this development will have a large and negative impact on the youngest generation Some would certainly argue that the author is over-exaggerating and that social networking sites such as Facebook, are only improving our communication skills They claim that the new generation will be even better than their parents at communicating Although, some of these critics may be right, it is hard to ignore some of the evidence that suggests otherwise

Consider a study done by Stephanie Tong, Brandon Vander Heide, Lindsey Langwell, and Joseph B Walther in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication The Authors found that there is a direct correlation between the numbers of Facebook friends someone has and the amount of time they spend socializing in person In other words, people who spend more time on Facebook are less likely to engage in real life socializing Now some would certainly suggest that Facebook is merely a variable in this equation, and that it is not the cause of people’s lack of social skills but merely a way in which people that are less-socially inclined communicate with one another Even if this were to be true, it does not negate the fact that Facebook is enabling these people to avoid person-to-person communication Although, this study was focused more on people who are less-socially inclined, it has some implications for how Facebook is impacting society as a whole Furthermore, it may be more informative to observe the impact that Facebook is having on people who are at a medium level of social activity

When Facebook reached the 500 million-member mark in 2010, it was clear that this was no longer a site used only by hyper-social college kids and “teenie-boppers” Facebook has reached the mainstream across many layers of society

One cannot write about the impact of social media on interpersonal communication without discussing Twitter A brief history of the domination of Twitter is as follows:
Twitter is a website that offers a social networking and micro- blogging service Users are able to send and read messages called tweets Tweets are posts limited to 140 chracters isplayed on the user's profile similar to the statuses on one’s Facebook profile page Tweets can be seen by the public; though they can be made private or restricted to a user’s followers Anyone who creates a twitter account can subscribe to another user’s account to view tweets and other information posted by that user Twitter has had such an influence on the world that terms such as ‘tweet’ and ‘twitter’ have become a part of the mainstream lexicon used by the youth, not just in America, but also in many countries across the globe

Jack Dorsey created Twitter in March 2006 and launched the site in July 2006 Twitter has since achieved a massive popularity in the United States and abroad It is estimated to have 200 million users, generating 65 million tweets a day and handling over 800,000 search queries per day At the time of the creation of Twitter, Dorsey was an employee of the Odeo Corporation It was on March 21, 2006 that the first tweet was sent by Dorsey, “just setting up my twitter” Then launched publicly at Odeo on July 15, 2006, Twitter then branched out into its own corporation in April 2007

Steven Johnson, a Time essayist, explained the basic mechanics of Twitter as "remarkably simple” He wrote “As a social network, Twitter revolves around the principle of followers When you choose to follow another Twitter user, which user's tweets appear in reverse chronological order on your main Twitter page If you follow 20 people, you'll see a mix of tweets scrolling down the page: breakfast-cereal updates, interesting new links, music recommendations, even musings on the future of education”

Twitter has been ranked as one of the ten-most-visited websites worldwide according to Alexa's web traffic analysis, however daily user activity fluctuate as Twitter does not release information or statistics on users’ active accounts and profiles A February 2009 Twitter was ranked the third most used social network based on their count of 6 million unique monthly visitors and 55 million monthly visits by competecom In March 2009, Twitter was ranked the fastest-growing website by the Nielsen organization From 2008 to 2009, Twitter had annual growth of 1,382 percent, increasing from 475,000 unique visitors to 7 million

According to Quancast, twenty-seven million people in the US used Twitter as of September 2009 Twitter is primarily used by older adults who may not have used, had access to, or were unfamiliar with other social sites that existed prior to Twitter, according to Jeremiah Owyang, an industry analyst studying social media Because of its relatively easy manner to use and lack of other applications as compared to Facebook or MySpace, older adults are now joining teenagers and adolescents in using Twitter According to Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times, only eleven percent of Twitter's users are aged twelve to seventeen She attributes this to Twitter's "early adopter period" in which social media networks were gaining an increase in user usage in companies, corporations, and other organizations in professional settings News outlets such as CNN and Fox News and other news outlets also used Twitter in their broadcasts and dispensing of news, which has led to Twitter attracting primarily older users Twitter has also appealed to celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Ashton Kutcher, and Britney Spears These celebrities are able to maintain regular access to their fans and offer communications and self-promotion in quicker and newer format than previously allowed in the past to celebrities Another term brought into the modern day lexicon is Twitterati, which refers to celebrities who use Twitter.

Another phenomenon to have a major impact (if not the biggest) on interpersonal communication is Text messaging Texting refers to the exchange of briefly typed messages between two users (either through LAN-line phones or cell phones or computer or other devices through a network) Originally texting referred only to text-based messages, however through the increasing development of modern technology texting messages can also refer to images graphics, and video & audio content

The first text message or SMS (Short Message Service) was sent by Neil Papworth, a test engineer for Sema Group in December 1992 He sent the message, “Merry Christmas” through his personal computer to Richard Jarvis’ telephone via the Vodafone network
Standard text messages are limited to 140 bytes, which are 160 characters from the English alphabet While texting arose in the 1990s, it did not reach its current popularity until the early 2000s The lack of early growth and usage was due, in part, to billing and charging issues

Today, however, text messaging is the most widely used mobile device service in usage As of 2007, 74% of all mobile phone users worldwide, or 24 billion out of 33 billion phone subscribers, were using text-messaging services

Text messaging is primarily used between private mobile cell phone users, as an alternate for voice calls during moments where voice communication is impractical or unfeasible In some areas, text messaging is considerably cheaper than placing a call to a mobile cell phone Text message services have developed and continue to develop quickly worldwide It is so popular that ‘texting’ has entered the common lexicon Text messaging has also become popular enough that many companies and organizations advertise by sending mass texts or repeating texts And it has even been incorporated into mainstream television and reality shows where viewers can vote for their favorites in various contests on such shows as American Idol or Dancing with the Stars.

The introduction of text messaging has made possible new forms of interpersonal communication and interaction that were impossible prior to its invention. What some consider a benefit is that an individual can now carry out an entire conversation without the effort of having to actually speak to another person Another benefit is not having to worry about the expectation of having to respond in quick amount time or without having to set time to physically hold a conversation

Texting and social media have played a major role in world politics as evidenced by the use of social media during the recent events in Egypt and the Middle East During the events, protestors were able to communicate with each other and the rest of the world via text messaging and posts on Twitter and Facebook CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and other news media outlets were receiving reports from journalists and reporters In fact, some would say the initial ideas for the revolutions sprang forth from social media with postings on Twitter and Facebook
Web based social networking services, like emailing, instant messaging, and sites like MySpace and Twitter make it viable for people to connect and share their interests, opinions, activities, and happenings across political, religious, economic, cultural, ethnic, national, language, and geographic borders Through e-mail and text messaging, online communities are created, formed, nurtured, perpetuated and are encouraged through cooperation amongst vast networks of users Information is readily shared and made available to the public and other users via the Internet Most of this information can be beneficial, but in some cases, detrimental as will be presented further along in this paper

Facebook and other social networking sites are progressively more the object of scholarly research Scholars in many fields (including business, science, engineering, psychology, etc) are beginning to scrutinize the bearing of social networking sites and are investigating how such sites may play into issues of self identity, confidentiality, society, youth, and education.

Several websites are starting to note the power of the social networking model for charity and philanthropic work These websites and social media outlets make available options for connecting otherwise disjointed industries and small organizations without the capital to reach a wide-ranging audience with similarly interested users Social networks are forging ahead with different ways for individuals to communicate digitally The capabilities of texting and social media allow for the sharing and dispensing of information and ideas

Taking such a pivotal role in world affairs is just one of the many examples of how social media has impacted positively on interpersonal communication Social media has forever changed how the world communicates within itself People who are unable to pay high rates for calling, can send a message via text message They can send photos and videos via Facebook They can comment on their activities via Twitter They can ‘chat’ via instant messaging They can even video chat with the use of a webcam and programs such as Skype Also, the speed with which people can communicate is increased exponentially Another positive aspect to social media is the fact that people can communicate in large numbers They can keep in touch with people who they have not communicated with in years Also, awkwardness can occur when people physically speak via the phone or even face-to-face Social media alleviates the stress of personal encounters between two or more people Social media is like a cyber window into the lives of its users

The aforementioned examples listed above with regard to the type of technology imparted to the world by social media, the speed with which one can communicate, and the quantity of simultaneous communicators However, many more examples can be given for the positive benefits of social media As previously stated with the role of social media in Egypt and the Middle East protests, social media links and connects the world in quick massive bursts of texts, videos, and other data formats to get messages across Social Media outlets like MySpace and Youtube allow artists (both cinematic and musical) venues for reaching a much larger and wider audience in a faster manner Artists such as Lily Allen, Justin Bieber, and Rebecca Black have all risen to fame (and in some cases notoriety) through the use of social media They release audio tracks on their websites They then make corresponding videos released on YouTube Within days or weeks, they can have nearly a million “hits” Hits refer to the number of views a specific video clip or also refer to the number of times an audio track has been listened too Hits also generates “word-of mouth” buzz around each artists On a plus side for the fans, but perhaps a negative for the artists, viewers are also able to comment or give their opinion about the particular artist This is an active forum for users, giving them a semblance of creditability for which they can offer their critiques While in some cases (like Rebecca Black), the criticism can be hurtful and downright cruel for the artist In other cases (like Justin Bieber) the viewer feedback can translate to deals and contracts with major record labels and producers “Hits” to various production or recording companies translates into monetary gain through which they can profit from their musical or cinematic artists

In 2010, Michael A Stelzner, who organized the 2010 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, has compiled a comprehensive list of the seven social media marketing benefits, after surveying 1,898 marketers

These seven benefits include: (1) generate qualified leads, (2) sell products/services – both contributing to revenue growth, (3) generate exposure, (4) increase subscriber traffic, (5) generate new business partnerships, (6) reduce marketing expenses, and (7) help sell services and products

As with all things, there are negative aspects to social media Some see the heavy reliance to social media like Facebook and Twitter as an addiction People will spend hours logged into their computers avoiding the outside world, to the extent of lack of self-care Hygiene and health can be impacted negatively Also some see the dangers of social media with the lack of privacy and censorship Many users broadcast every minute deal and their up-to-the-minute activities Online users who share private and personal information online sometimes fear that this gives access to cyber criminals who may attempt to steal one’s identity There is also the general fear that organizations like Facebook and MySpace sell or reveal their users’ information to various companies that can abuse this information for financial or personal gain

Social media has developed into the new age of what we consider new media With this said, social media has grown to establish a foundation in the way our society communicates. The way we communicate with those around us is constantly changing. There is no guarantee that the social media we have become accustomed to now is going to be relevant to society in the next few years. Social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, texting, etc have become mainstream and it seems hard for the generation who has grown with them to imagine life without it.


  1. Very interesting arguments were presented in your approach of what new media is and entails. I specifically liked your point about the disanalogy between the number of friends a Facebook user has, and their social interaction abilities. It is true that many people find refuge on Facebook, as a result of their lack of real life socialization. I also found the section about Twitter very enlightening and comprehensive, as I do not have a Twitter account and I have no idea how it works. I was also not aware that Twitter and Facebook played such a major role in circulating the news about the events in the Middle East, but I can imagine that happening very easily. The actual data presented (numbers, survey results, statistics, polls) really helped in enhancing the credibility of the paper.

  2. I like the points you brought up about texting. Along with new new media, texting has become such a major component of our day to ay interaction. Even in the workplace it is becoming more and more apparent that texting is a viable and respectable form of communication, not just something to chat with your friends about.

  3. I found your paper to be very interesting. One part that I related to was the texting. It seems as though texting is being used more and more with different situations nowadays. I recently dealth with two small business owners that found it more convenient to set up appointments through texts. Instead of calling and finding the right time, i had to text them with my availability. Although this may seem inconvenient, one owner said that she likes having things in writing that she can save.

  4. I really enjoyed this because everything you said was so true. It's really interesting to see how technology has evolved in the past few years. Texting especially, has become a main source of communication. I use it for personal and professional use. I can't say it is 100% professional, but it is so much easier to send a quick text than it is to make a phone call- especially if you're in a hurry. It's personal use has also taken over my communication with others. Although it has so many "bad" associations, I do feel that it helps people feel a little more connected to one another given the hectic lives and schedules.

  5. I really enjoyed this essay. Its weird to think back on a time where new media wasn't affecting our everyday life. My mom used to tell me about writing her papers in college and having to use a typewriter where if you made a mistake you would have to re-write the whole page. Now we can get on a computer and change things and we have condensed even that and use our cell phones to tweet or go on Facebook. Text messaging is completely different compared to having to actually talk to someone on the other line. I wonder what new media will come next and how this will change our already fast moving world.

  6. We all talk about how new media is affecting our lives. How about our communication skills? lol,omg,brb,xoxo,dtsl say what? dtsl means dont talk so loud, I am texting lol, How can I be loud? how did you get that impression? We need a dictionary to understand all that. In my opinion, yes, texting saves time, faster communication is positive way of new media tools, but changing our written and verbal communication way is not appropriate way to do so. Why are we all in a hurry to communicate that fast? Let's just take the positive ways of social media.

  7. I definitely agree with Mine. We definitely should have a dictionary to understand all of the shorthand we have created in communicating more rapidly. Social media does present quick and positive ways in communicating, however I think it's debatable if these ways of communicating are actually efficient.