The present age is known as the information era or digital era, and it has been characterized by a massive communication revolution. World Wide Web has played an enormous role in making the world a global village as well as increasing the interaction between people of different cultures. It is worthy of note that cross-cultural and interpersonal communication began in the olden days by the use of oral communication. This evolved over time through the use of other media including script, print, wired electronics and until recently digital media. However, the introduction of computers and the internet from the mid-1980s completely has completely revolutionized communication. Communication mediated via the computer has rendered the local, national and global space obsolete due to the compression of time and distance. Further, the access to information by all individuals has been liberalized and is not a preserve of governments and their agencies. The digital era has, of course, presented humanity with many benefits especially in the facilitation of globalization that has so many advantages. However, the real impact has been felt in terms of interpersonal and intercultural communication which has been adversely affected. This paper seeks to lay out some of the adverse challenges that computer-mediated communication has brought in interpersonal and interpersonal communication.
The Impact of Digital Media on Intercultural Communication
This is a form of communication that is intended to pass on information across different cultures and social groups. The term intercultural communication denotes the diverse range of range of communication procedures and challenges that inherently appear in a setup or context that consists of persons from different educational, social, ethnic and religious conflicts. Cross-cultural communication, as it is sometimes referred to, therefore, intends to understand how individuals from diverse nations and cultural backgrounds behave, communicate and perceive the world that surrounds them. Intercultural communication has its main focus on language, social attributes, thought patterns, customs and cultures of different groups of people as well as their community. Theses aspects of intercultural communication have been adversely affected by the use of digital media.
With its distinct features, use of computers to convey information has made the society highly interconnected and more complex while in the same breath challenging the very existence of human communication in its traditional sense. Use of social media to pass information affects the form and content of messages as well as well as how others perceive the message particularly those from different ethnic and cultural background.
Creation of a Continuity Gap
In traditional societies, traditions, and certain cultures were easily passed on to the succeeding generations because the society coexisted in a synchronized way. This has in the current generation become impossible due to the speed and impact of the new communications media. As a result, traditional values have been unable to keep pace with the new cultural values generated by the new media. This gap has resulted in challenges in comprehending the communication between persons of different generations as well as different cultures. For instance, a few years ago people were used to sending mails if personal communication was completely impossible. People often expressed their messages in a coherent, comprehensible and courteous manner. The use of new media and especially the social media has eroded the traditional values. The current generation no longer sends letters, they instead send text messages usually drafted in unclear language. When a fifteen-year-old child, for instance, texts his grandmother a message containing the word “LOL”, she will obviously be confused. The grandmother probably does not even know how to operate a smart phone. There will obviously be a communication breakdown between the two parties.
Breakdown of Cultures
New communication media is also fragmented to an extent that communication gaps have been created between different cultural and ethnic groups. Traditional cultural themes and patterns are being modified into new patterns thus resulting in the loss of traditional cultural logic. Such restructuring of culture necessitates members of a particular culture their communication behavior within their community and teach themselves how to interact with people from other cultures. Use of the internet to communicate has propounded a new culture in which the level of vagueness and uncertainty has reached its peak and, particularly the process of intercultural communication. In this chaotic state, it is difficult for persons from different cultures to readjust themselves to achieve a mutual goal. The breakdown of cultures can be particularly illustrated by individuals in high context cultures. A Chinese high school student, who comes from a collectivistic culture will use the social media to attain social support from existing social relationships. An American high school student, who comes from a highly individualistic society, will, on the contrary, use the social media for entertainment purpose. When these two people use the social media to communicate there will obviously be a disconnect at a certain point. Also, computer-assisted communication has the potential for promoting and developing a virtual cosmopolitan culture.
Modern media of communication such a Twitter, Facebook, Youtube among others have enabled people from all over the world to portray themselves in a certain way and remain connected in the cyberspace. It is certain that the randomness, with which information shared over these media, has an impact on the development of intercultural relationships. Optimists will argue that such media for instance blogging has a positive impact on the development of intercultural relationships since it increases the degree of the individuals’ intercultural communication competence. They also argue that it assists to set up business relationships at the global level. The problem however with digital media and especially the social media is that there are high chances of the individual revealing too much information, and this may jeopardize important relationships within their own culture as well as other cultures. Through such a culture that is technically the combination of several cultures with a few additions and omissions, individuals acquire negative traits from other cultures.
Since digital media facilitates communication across the world, it presents an opportunity to pass on messages for the sake of comprehending people from other cultures. It has become commonplace for immigrants to use social media to reconnect with friends and family members back at home and in the host country as they adapt to the culture of the new place. Studies have shown that the more they reside in the host country, the more they communicate to new friends there via the new media at the expense of the people back home. Social media, therefore, helps immigrants to make stronger personal relationships and cultivate a sense of belonging to the new culture. This is particularly the case with international students as it helps them cope with the cultural barriers as they seek to settle in the new environment. However when communication with people from the home country reduces, the values and culture are eroded in a corresponding manner. Therefore despite the fact that computer-mediated communication is helpful to immigrants as it helps them adapt, it does an injustice to them by corroding their culture.
Digital media gives governments and individuals a potent tool to construct their self-image, to clarify the intention of messages they convey and to set the media agenda. However, differences in cultures lead to different ways of media representation of the individual and or government level. The different forms of media depiction tend to reflect the lop-sidedness of intercultural communication and unavoidably lead to the problem of intercultural disagreement in interpersonal, group and national levels. This can be illustrated by the Western’s media coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The Western media has always portrayed the Chinese government as backward, undemocratic and a suppressor of human rights. During the games, the Chinese government used the state-owned media to promote its image as scientific, environment-friendly as well as humanistic. However, instead of the Western media led by the likes of New York Times bringing out the success of the Olympics, they put their emphasis on the covering protests which were aimed at criticizing the government’s failure to honor its promise of relaxing restrictions on free speech. Western media’s apparent support for the protests is based on the Western world’s belief in human rights, equality of persons and freedom of speech which is contrary to the beliefs of the Chinese cultural values of harmony, common good and societal order. Such differences in perception made the conflict inevitable.
Effects of the Computer on Interpersonal Communication
The invention of social forums using the computer has tremendously affected every individual’s capability to interact and communicate. When one scrutinizes various areas of social gatherings such as restaurants, the probability of identifying a person who is not texting using their handsets, tweeting or writing a message to a friend on Facebook, is low. In addition, the contemporary global society has been transformed into a tiny village where people from all corners of the earth can communicate within the twinkle of an eye. All this interaction has been made possible with the creation of the social media.
Paul Booth, who is an associate lecturer in the fields of media, and cinema, argues that the social media undoubtedly influences the manner in which people engage with each other throughout all locations and ages by making it easier and faster. He further states that the computer has shifted the way in which prefer to communicate. In general, he states that many individuals now have a preference mediated communication as opposed to face-to-face encounters. Similarly, Thousands of people would rather exchange messages over the e-mail, send an SMS or just make a telephone call. Despite the fact that various benefits have accrued because of the use of computers and the social media, the disadvantages outweigh its rewards. The reason the situation has become worse is because many people end up misusing these social forums.
Studies have revealed that with the creation of the computer-mediated communication, people have become more social and collaborating with one another. Most, authors, however, argue that the method of communicating with other people has adversely affected relationships. Booth argues that communicating over the Internet makes people lose personal contact with the individuals he or she is interacting with. Besides, many people believe that for effective communication to occur, the tone, pose, non-verbal, and facial expressions must be present. Due to the lack of these fundamental aspects of communication that assist in clarifying a spoken or written message, a text sent via the computer is short of its richness. Consequently, the message that is put across is viewed as ‘bonier’. Ultimately, this might result in the wrong interpretation of the meaning of a message since factors such as humor and sarcasm can be construed erroneously.
In general, most people, especially those belonging to Generation Y, have become so addicted to the internet that the public communities around them, including their family members, become invisible. Studies have established that majority of the individuals who spend a substantial portion of their time on the internet tend to devote minimal time talking in person and communicating with their allies and, relatives, over the phone and in the places they live. Moreover, other scholars hold the view that computer-mediated communication is impersonal, concerned with tasks and unfriendly. It has even been proven that it can result in the loss of contact with an individual’s inner self. Such people end up becoming lonely and isolated. For example, recently, many teenagers have resulted in suicide because of the loneliness they experience within themselves. A closer examination of their personal lives has revealed that such people have over one thousand friends or more on Facebook, yet they still commit suicide due to depression! Captivatingly, the fifth version of DSM that has been recently released stipulates that obsession with the social media and the internet, in general, is one of the mental diseases destined for emotional breakdown, reduced levels of attentiveness and pulling out indicators.
Closely related to the above point is the fact that communications over the internet tends to categorize people into those who have the same view points. This conclusion is derived from the fact that while communicating through the social media, majority of the participants have a habit of trusting the other party who agree with their opinions and hence the level of openness is high. What most of these individuals fail to understand is the fact that they can be misadvised easily because of failing to consider the diverse points of views held by other people around them.
Nicholas David Bowman argues that there are particular actions that stimulate undesirable online relationships that are hence likely to result in similar bad interactions in real life, the difference being that the modality changes when it occurs over the internet. For instance, just like non-cyber bullying has adverse emotional, behavioral and mental consequences, so does cyberbullying that occurs on the social media and the internet. However, avoiding being intimidated by running away is impossible since when it is done over the internet, it becomes persistent, and the consequences are worse.
Another major concern that surrounds the use of social media for purposes of communication is the lack of privacy. Since the mode of communicating is dynamic, many folks are forced to share private information over the internet, although they would have previously preferred to someone reveal face-to-face. In spite of the fact that set high levels of privacy, networks can be hacked with ease to find private information.
The computer-mediated interaction has resulted in an information overload that is hard to comprehend and handle. Bowman states that more information about people is being generated, and most readers have the urge to process or even give replies to such knowledge. For this reason, recent statistics reveals the fact that most young people are withdrawing from Facebook because it is challenging and hard to handle.
Obviously, most people counter the negative associated with the media by its rewarding effects. For instance, many researchers hold the opposing opinion that the use of the internet for socializing has increased the ease and speed of communication with people from all over the globe. In fact, some of them state that the ordinary human orientation within the districts or villages has changed into societies built around the social networks in various geographical areas in the entire world. They further stipulate that people mingle and interact in the forums as opposed to limiting themselves solely to their surrounding community. Besides, a large number of relatives and neighbors, associates and workmates are primary subscribers of the social media. A good example can be seen in America where the social media has been used by churches and organizations as a tool fortify and improve the community relations.
The future of the social media is promising since the probability that it will continue influencing communication is high. This is because it is becoming gradually more acceptable and integrated into the society. The number of contracts made, businesses carried out as well as transactions completed over the Internet is also increasing. In addition, teenagers are becoming more affiliated to the internet in the name of exploring the world and technology. The impacts of the internet will, therefore, be constant. The internet will not only affect interpersonal communication, but also, our intercultural communications as well.
This discussion has revealed that communication that is facilitated by the internet influences both interpersonal interactions as well as intercultural mingling adversely. Some of the negative impacts of the computer and the social media on interpersonal communication include the loss of personal contact with the people they communicate to, addiction especially among the young generation, information surplus, lack of privacy and the forming of bad relationships that have long-lasting adverse effects. However, some authors support the fact that the social media has been one of the tools used to promote relationship between members of the community. The adverse effects of the social media on intercultural communication have also been discussed. Through the discussion, it has been shown that the computer has led to the erosion of cultural values, intercultural relationships and adaptation as well as intercultural conflict. Since the use of the Internet is likely to increase in the future, it is vital to address the negative effects to enable the entire society gain as much as they can from its benefits.