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Is the Digital World Helping or Hurting Communication? It Depends Who You Ask

April 24, 2012

A hot topic for discussion lately is whether or not online communication in its many forms is ultimately hurting our ability to communicate. While some insist that online communication gets in the way of “real” or “deep” conversation, as is the case with Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Sherry Turkle, others maintain that those who claim that the Internet has hampered meaningful communication just don't get it.

In an article printed in the New York Times on Sunday, Turkle claims that while “Face-to-face conversation unfolds slowly,” digital communication causes us to “dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters.” Basically, Turkle thinks that traditional conversation teaches patience whereas communication via digital means necessarily incorporates a need to say and do things faster.

While some aspects of online communication are negative — FOMO or Fear of Missing Out, for example, is often exacerbated by social media — but there are undoubtedly significant positive aspects. Text messaging, email and instant messaging, for example, are excellent ways to keep in touch with loved ones who are far away for free. And if that's not enough, a plethora of video chat services, like Skype, allow for face-to-face chatting over the Internet — again, for free.

Turkle still seems to think that these types of communications are no substitute for the real thing, however, stating that “We think constant connection will make us feel less lonely. The opposite is true.” Turkle fails to delve further into this point with any kind of evidence, though, but her article was posted in the “Opinion” section, so she has no obligation to do so. However, if Turkle is basing this off of personal experience and her own feelings, I think she'll find that there are plenty of people out there who feel differently.

For example, there are some who feel that an individual's feelings in regards to emerging forms of communication has a lot to do with which generation that individual is part of. It stands to reason that those who remember a time before Facebook and text messaging may look upon that time with a certain fondness. Either way, though, modern digital communication isn't going anywhere.

Edited by Jennifer Russell