Every time a new medium is introduced to society, the logic that supports it emphasizes how it’s going to bring us further into the future. E-books were going to digitize and simplify libraries. Social media was going to enliven our social lives. And most importantly, these new media are only going to make us more connected.
Or are they? The awe inspired by these transformative technologies blinded us from considering perhaps the most important question associated with them: is it feasible that someday these technologies will begin to make us more disconnected? In a 2012 article on Forbes’ website, Susan Tardanico sought to explore this question. Throughout her article, Tardanico’s tone is condemning. She explains how social media has broken traditional face-to-face conversation and how it’s created a gap between older generations and those accustomed to new media– especially in regards to business relationships– before going on to give suggestions for how to keep e-communication real.
This graphic gives a look into how much different generations utilize new media. It was used in a Pew Research Center article regarding social media marketing.
Her arguments are very similar to some of Sherry Turkle’s in her TED Talk about Alone Together. Both media texts discuss our growing tendency to hide behind our screens and how important interpersonal elements are lost when communication via digital technologies. Another similarity between the two are the solutions they offer. Both advocate for being wary of the detriments these technologies can have on our conversations, and explain that if we do so, we can again begin to derive the conversational benefits these media intended to produce. Tardanico’s piece also possesses similarities to Alone Together itself. Tardanico explains how younger generations are less comfortable with traditional interpersonal communication, instead preferring instant messages or email– a concept that builds on Turkle’s idea of an online identity, where users are free to construct their optimal self.
Overall, I think Tardanico’s article is a good example of general new media effects, as the effects she includes have been demonstrated time and time again using all new media– not just social media– as tests. A study from Elon University surveyed a random sample of students to find out how the rapid expansion of technology has affected face-to-face communication, and the researchers stumbled upon some pretty ominous conclusions. First, they deduced that people are becoming more reliant on their technologies and are less likely to engage with others– even friends and/or family. Another conclusion they drew was that the mere presence of these technologies can degrade the quality of a conversation. These findings are not that different from Tardanico’s or Turkle’s, and their replicability indicates that they’re substantial.
More evidence supporting Tardanico’s claims comes from a Huffington Post editorial by Thomas White. Like the previous works, White emphasizes the prevalence and danger of what he calls the “social media mask” or “social media shield,” referring to both out online identities and the false sense of security our screens provide. He also cites social media usage statistics, inferring that their sharp rise means that more and more people are needing a mask or shield. These findings are discussed everywhere from scientific studies to editorial essays to our classroom. Clearly they’re no hoax.
- Tardanico, S. (2012). Is social media sabotaging real communication? Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/susantardanico/2012/04/30/is-social-media-sabotaging-real-communication/#65d213754fd8
- Pew Research Center (2010). Percentage of adults with home broadband, by generation. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/search?q=new+media+effects&biw=1252&bih=580&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj3lpirko3LAhWB74MKHU6oBjIQ_AUIBygC#tbm=isch&q=social+media+generational+gap&imgrc=741-yIpdTItWkM%3A
- Turkle, S. (2012). Connected, but alone? Ted. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together?language=en
- Turkle, S. (2011). Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Retrieved from https://ay15.moodle.umn.edu/pluginfile.php/1249071/mod_resource/content/1/Alone%20Together%20Chapters%2089.pdf
- Drago, E. (2015). The effect of technology on face-to-face communication. The Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications, 6, 1. Retrieved from https://www.elon.edu/docs/e-web/academics/communications/research/vol6no1/02DragoEJSpring15.pdf
- White, T. (2013). Why social media isn’t social. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/thomas-white/why-social-media-isnt-social_b_3858576.html