Has technology changed communication?
Technology has changed communication in society. Communication is a basic human need. Technology has become faster, cheaper and easier to use. Consequently it could be said society has transformed dramatically in the way we now make contact with one another locally and globally, shrinking our world beyond imagination.
The concurrent development of science, media and capital under the aegis of digital technology produces a kind of fast forward effect in which everything appears to take place at an accelerated rate and to produce dramatic change in a very short time (Gere, 2002, p.10).
The smartphone has changed society and changed the language used to communicate. The telephone, originally a simple tool to make voice calls has become a small computer in the pocket connecting to everyone in various ways. Positive or negative we are letting a small device rule our lives. Etiquette has disappeared as it has become socially acceptable to use our phones on any occasion without social consequences. This is the new way of life. The mobile has become an extension of our body, ‘the most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it’ (Weiser, M. 1991).
Additionally messaging, social media and emails let shy and lonely people engage in social communications. Socially awkward people have found a new voice joining chat rooms. Deaf people have become confident to engage in social activities as this technology allows them to be heard without the use of speech or sign language. On the other hand there are dangers of bullying, false identity, grooming and isolation (Sayrs, E. 2013).
Sherry Turkle believes humans have forgotten how to converse becoming reliant on texting, thus making face to face conversations almost a thing of the past (Ted 2012). Barry Wellman, on the other hand, believes that social media and instant messaging has enhanced our personal relationships. Wellman contends that the integration of technology into people’s lifestyles is kindling, more fulfilling, richer and creates more diverse relationships. (Masket, S. 2014). Either way, they both agree that technology has transformed communication and relationships and dramatically transformed social structures.
Communication is not restricted to daylight hours or within a geographic space. The invention of the internet and consequently the smartphone has ensured that, often irrelevant of your location, it is now possible to communicate around the globe across all time zones. We are all available anytime and anywhere.
The post-information age will remove the limitations of geography. Digital living will include less and less dependence upon being in a specific place at a specific time, and the transmission of place itself will start to become possible. (Negroponte, 1995, p.165)
Speech has fallen out of favour. Ofcom found that messaging has overtaken speaking on a mobile phone and face-to-face contact as the most used method of daily communication between friends and family. More than half (58%) of UK adults use text messages at least once a day (Ofcom 2014). Globally the results are similar. Messaging can be free and is available 24/7. People talk less as they feel conversations cannot be controlled, cleaned or deleted as text messages or email can be. All generations have taken to this addiction. ‘I would rather text than talk,’ people tell Sherry Turkle. (Ted 2012). Messaging allows communication without boundaries. Social media platforms e.g. Facebook make the whole experience richer and more rewarding. Conversations via messaging never end. These short bursts of messages are the conversations of today. Traditionalists may feel we have lost the art of talking but in reality more conversations are happening today. (Bright hub 2012).
The spoken word may have been sacrificed but a new form of language, txt speak has developed and is evolving continuously. We now have emoticons and acronyms to enrich messaging. These acronyms have entered the Oxford English dictionary (Martin, J. 2011). They have taken place of the body language used to convey emotions in communication. The younger generation has taken to this new language very quickly. This has led to other issues. Baroness Greenfield, the neuroscientist, worries sending text messages cause young people to have shorter attention spans (Mail Online, 2009). Texting is writing and reading, but not in the traditional way. Many teachers feel literacy levels have declined as students become obsessed with the short hand language for messaging (British Academy 2010). Again others believe that messaging enhances literacy skills. (Wiley Online Library 2010)
Communication technology has become immersed in the digital art world. Aram Bartholl, Golan Levin, Antonio Muntadas and Annina Rust are digital artists who explore the link between the digital and physical worlds creating interactive installations. Paul Notzold, a New York digital artist, has exhibited around the world. He uses public buildings as backgrounds for speech bubbles where people text in conversations to a phone number which allows the messages to appear automatically (Fig 1). This creates community through the conversations. By using buildings as backdrops for displaying the messages the artist wants us to think about the spaces we live in, and share with each other. It also shows what conversations would happen if our private thoughts were shared. There does not have to be any meaning to these messages. It does not matter, as this is just another form of conversation using our mobiles. The conversations are one of a kind, never to be repeated wherever they are displayed and are unpredictable, funny or sad, and sometimes not really saying anything at all. It is also a good example of how modern day technology and art have connected together (Designboom 2012).
A survey was taken. Respondents were 18-60 years. More than 74% said they could not live without their phone. 70% said they prefer to message rather than talk. More than 68% used acronyms and 88% used emoticons. 87% spent many hours a day using the phone. (Survey Monkey 2015)
To summarize, the explosion of smart phones has completely changed the way we communicate. We have become available 24/7. Text speak has become integrated with traditional language and the boundaries are blurring beyond recognition. The rise of social media and messaging has trained us to have short bursts of conversation and it is difficult to see how the next generation will have the confidence and ability to communicate as nature intended. There are those who believe that this enhances human relationships (Barry Wellman) and then those who believe we are becoming more isolated from one another (Sherry Turkle). We will not lose the ability to talk but technology has changed the way we converse and communicate today (Ofcom 2012).
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Txtual Healing, 2013, Brooklyn
Image courtesy dumbo arts centre.