Do new media pose a threat to communication?

Savannah Pinnock, Opinion Editor

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Literacy is a peculiar term. It can be used to define one’s understanding of a certain subject. A person can be literate in computer science, sports, automobiles, art and a plethora of other disciplines.
Although these disciplines possess a great deal of importance, they dull in comparison to the significance of literacy and interpersonal communication. Language can be described as a universal adhesive in that it is responsible for humanities ability to communicate.
Without language, society would immediately regress to a prehistoric state in which one’s emotions, thoughts and beliefs could not be articulated to another individual. In fact, language is one of society’s greatest advancements.
Dating back to 3200 BC Iraq formerly known as Mesopotamia, society had developed language for the first time. This paved the way for the wide range of art, poetry, music, dance and other forms of culture we have today. With this being said, is the technological development of texting causing society to regress in its communication skills?
According to Dr. Mia E. Briceño, one of Wilkes University’s communication professors, the answer to this question is not black and white. In light of this topic Briceño reveals that she believes “there is a lot of conversation right now about this and I think we’re kind of in a panic”.
She believes that this panic revolves around an anxiety towards Millennials and younger generations that she does not sustain herself. It appears as though this demographic of panicked, older Americans are concerned with the interpersonal communication skills of younger Americans.
Briceño explains this eloquently stating that older Americans believe that “Millennials are unable to have a conversation or interact in appropriate ways that meet traditional expectations of interpersonal or face to face communication”.
This anxiety is prevalent within American society as it is common to see an older individual scold a younger individual for their affinity for digital technologies, namely their cell phones.
In a greater sense, the admonishment given to younger technology dependant Americans is characteristic of a modern day jeremiad. It appears as though some older Americans believe that previous generations had stronger interpersonal skills then later generations as a result of not having access to modern digital technologies.
After assessing the presence of this jeremiad and panic pertaining to younger generations and forms of new media, Briceño suggests that she’s “not sure it’s warranted”.
In fact, this panic leads Briceño to wonder “why we are so concerned about this, where does this panic come from?” The question is justified as there seems to be an unnecessary emphasis placed on the use of new media.
Digital technologies are constantly finding their place in the classroom and are becoming an integral part of the American education system so why is this presenting an issue to some older generations?
In an effort to answer this thought provoking question Briceño reveals that this anxiety surrounding technology may come from the fact that older people are not digital natives. Briceño elaborates a bit more by stating that there’s a distance from technology that comes as a result of not being a digital native.
She states that “even in the generation I’m a part of, we’re not digital natives–we’re maybe straddling that boundary”. She continues to state that “people who are born today are digital natives”. This revelation is quite telling as it suggests that within the dichotomy created in terms of digital nativity, there is a population of non digital natives that find technology to be quite useful and beneficial. Briceno identifies with this populous of open minded adults.
She also provides a further insight into the origins of these anxieties stating that this “fear comes out of ignorance”. For example “I don’t know this so I sort of fear what the outcome is going to be”.
Briceño reveals that growing up, her interpersonal interactions took place on a more personal level. Digital technologies were not a primary form of communication but a tool that would facilitate her generation’s learning experience.
In terms of Millennials and younger generations, digital technologies hold a more central position in social and pedagogical spheres.
With this juxtaposition of generational experiences at hand, it leads one to wonder whether having less technology can help one to be a better communicator. Briceño suggests that the answer to this question is again not black and white.
She states that she wants to “avoid joining in the panic and I want to just sort of think critically about [society] dealing with all this new media” she also states that it’s “not new” and these new developments have happened “throughout history”.
As a result of this, Briceño suggests that we “relax a little and observe it, engage with it, study it and sort of figure out what it’s potential is” which she believes will develop over time.
She also clarifies that there’s a distinction and a “different kind of literacy and fluency.” One of her primary examples lies within the fact that one may be an excellent communicator via text or in terms of social media platforms.
On the other hand, a person who is part of an older generation may be “less adept at those things”. She makes it abundantly clear that there are many benefits and downsides to new media, and the social presence of the form of communication is key.
She defines social presence as “a term that we use to say how much is what we call computer mediated communication like face to face communication”. For instance, in terms of texting, one could say that it has a great deal of social presence as it is only secondary to face to face communication and similar in ways.
With that being said, it is fair to say that in determining whether new media is a threat to communication, it is contingent on the “context and situation”.
When pondering the social implications of new media, it is important to understand that just as the invention of the wheel, the printing press and the steam engine were new concepts; new media is just the same.
As a result of this, forms of new media are subject to the opinions of society. In order for society to grow and advance, risks must be taken and the skies limit must be exceeded.
Yes, the integration of digital technologies into our social spheres can affect or alter our current paradigm however, this is not something to fear but something to embrace.

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