Friday, March 11, 2011

The Impact of Modern Technology on Communication

Communicating with friends and family is easier now than it has ever been. With the invention of the Internet and cellphones there are very few reasons for being out of touch. Cellphones make it possible to simply push a button or speak instructions to send a message or make a phone call. The internet allows instant communication in a number of ways, such as email and instant messaging. Modern technology has made staying in touch easier than ever, but the tradition of personalized contact has gone by the wayside.

Nowadays most people either have or know someone who has a computer and/or cellphone. It was not so many years ago that in order to write to someone, paper, a pen, an envelope and a postage stamp were needed, then it took several days for the recipient to receive the letter; today’s communication is instantaneous, but lacks the warmth of an old fashioned hand written note. In “Class Matters,” Janny Scott and David Leonhardt say that “Americans of all sorts are awash in luxuries that would have dazzled their grandparents” (246). This is true, but it’s also likely that it would have dismayed them as well, since a personal, hand written note or a face-to-face thank you was considered common courtesy back then, but are hardly ever heard of today. In this day and age, although the old lines of communication are still available, such as land line telephones and the United States Postal Service, most people prefer to use the new technology so they can communicate instantly with people across the country or across the world. As Ellen DeGeneres puts it in her essay “This is How We Live,” “Phones have gone through such an evolution. Now we have this wireless technology that lets us talk to anybody, anywhere, anytime” (642). This style of communication is fast, but it is very impersonal, especially considering the fact that phones aren’t only for talking anymore; many people prefer to send a quick text. At least with traditional telephones the people talking could hear each other’s voices. With today’s telephones having texting capabilities there is no need to even listen to the other person; only to read the typed note.

Messages and letters can be sent and received in mere seconds, but they are faceless and cold. Receiving an electronic note or letter that has been typed rather than handwritten is impersonal. When someone handwrites a letter or note it feels as if they’ve put more of themselves in the process, making it feel warmer and more personal. Today’s communication technology makes it possible to communicate at lightening speed, but people never even have to meet in person. While it used to be that people had to go to a phone to  make a call, most people now have a phone with them and can make calls without even thinking, without hearing or seeing what’s happening around them. Not only are people missing out on face-to-face interaction with the person on the other end of the phone line, they are missing out on interaction with the people that are around them. In “Pearls before Breakfast: Joshua Bell on the Subway”, Gene Weingarten notes that although one of the best musicians in the world was playing violin for free from the Metro at the L’Enfant Plaza station, most people didn’t notice him because they were preoccupied and had other things on their minds: “Some who were on cellphones spoke louder as they passed [him], to compete with that infernal racket” (486). People can’t interact with others around them if they don’t see them or hear them. Some may argue that talking to another human being on a telephone is interacting, but it’s not face-to-face, and when talking on a phone while walking through a public place, it interferes with face-to-face contact.

Without face-to-face communication, people become dehumanized. It is easier to be impolite, or to say mean things when the affect on the other person can’t be seen. In “Stalking Celebrities,” Heather Havrilesky tells about how “celebrities were cornered and tagged by surveillance cameras, digital cameras, cellphones, voice mails, e-mails, downloaded files, and anonymous posts in comment sections” (446). People see superstars as something other than human because there is no personal connection or interaction, if knowing them on a personal level were easier it would be more difficult psychologically to take advantage of them. The same thing holds true for average people. When face-to-face interaction is necessary, people treat each other with more respect; take the personal interaction out of the picture and it is much easier to be impolite or mean. People are more polite in person because they have to witness the other person’s feelings and responses.

Not all aspects of modern communication technology are negative. Since so many people own cellphones, the likelihood of having one available when an emergency arises is good. If an invoice or document is needed immediately, chances are it can be emailed. If a loved one needs to be contacted quickly, a phone isn’t necessary; they can be contacted by email or instant messaging. This technology has its place, but it should not replace personalized contact.

Although modern technology has made communicating simpler than it has ever been, it has come at a cost. People who are considered friends on the internet may not even recognize each other on the street. People are more likely to be rude or impolite to others because of not having to witness the effect that behavior has on the other person. People will continue to go through life preoccupied instead of enjoying and learning from the sights and sounds around them. Communication technology has come a long way, but unless human interaction is reinstated, people will continue on a path to isolation.


  1. I am a subscriber of an Australian internet service provider and I can say technology really changed the way we communicate.

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