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Social Interaction and Technology

February 4, 2010

Posted by: Chad M. Gesser

Twitter: @profgesser

Email: chad.gesser@kctcs.edu

I authored a blog post in early January entitled Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.  That post addressed the influence of technology on the current generation, using terms to identify the younger generation such as “Wired, Wireless, Mobile, Open, Participatory, and Empowered”.

We tend to have informal conversations in my department from time to time around the use of web 2.0 technologies, particularly Facebook and Twitter.  It is obvious, as was reflected in the the Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants post, that there is a very large gap regarding the use of information technology and devices between the younger and older generations in the United States.  Recently I came across an interesting graphic by Focus.com called The State of the Internet.  It’s quite large (see below), but take a few minutes to look through the information presented in the graphic.
Note the difference in age groups using the internet.
Part of those informal discussions we have around our department involve the environment of the classroom versus the environment of the virtual classroom.  Does online learning (learning through the internet, using Facebook and Twitter) meet the same standards and achieve the same results as the traditional classroom setting?  There are a variety of issues to be addressed regarding online learning, some of which can be found here.
This is a topic of much consideration of faculty and students at varies institutions across the United States, and the world.  Taking that notion one step further, if young people are using the internet so frequently, along with social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace (see this report providing indication that teens don’t tend to use Twitter that much), then we begin to need to address this fundamental change in a new form of social interaction, forming new communities.
This is the basis of social networking sites: networking through interaction, encouraging negotiation, communication, and collaboration.
During our informal discussion today, I mentioned the community or personal learning network I had established through my use of Facebook and Twitter.  A colleague replied, “But that’s not community.”
Can we have meaningful social interactions without physical appearance?  How does current internet technology facilitate better social interaction?  Does the technology hinder social relationships?  How do the changes wrought by recent technologies differ than say the invention of the telephone?  In your opinion, do our relationships benefit or suffer as a result of the use of technology?  Can we have community through online interaction?
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2 comments

  1. I personally think the internet is the best thing going. I can’t image myself with out it. And for the age groups I think any age should use the internet. You can find almost anything you want on there.


  2. I think you need to ask another question before you ask if you can have a community through online interaction. And that is “how do you define a community?” Maybe the internet and social media does not allow for the creation of communities with strong ties of relationships like rural villages once upon a time when you knew all there was to know about the people around you (altough Facebook aims to do just that). But it’s quite obvious that it allows for the creation of communities of interest where the important thing is not the social interaction but the informational interaction. And then you don’t need strong-tie relationships anymore. The weak-tie relationships work just as well, if not better.

    Which brings me to your other question: How does current internet technology facilitate better social interaction? I think that you need to consider that we don’t always have our online relationships in a vacuum in the virtual environment. Some online relationships start after a brief face-to-face meeting and other leads to a first meeting. There’s always an interaction between different means of communication.



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