Computer Mediated Communication
Contrary to the fears espoused by some, the digital age has not signaled the end of human connectivity. While people may be spending less time engaged in face-to-face communication with people, for example doing shopping online rather than interacting with a store clerk, that does not mean that people spend less time communicating with others. On the contrary, recent studies reveal that computer mediated communication (CMC) can have very positive impacts on interpersonal relationships and networking. My personal experience with CMC certainly supports the results of those studies.
Like most people my age, I have found regular CMC interactions have brought me closer to some of the people in my life. What is surprising to me is that the one relationship that CMC has impacted in the most positive manner is a relationship that should have developed outside of the CMC range; my relationship with my father. I grew up in a two-parent household, where my father worked regular hours and participated in some of the traditional fatherly activities, such as the occasional coaching duty and teaching me how to drive. I never considered myself particularly close to my father, but I would have described our relationship as loving and respectful.
However, it was only after I moved out of my parents’ home that my relationship with my father really began to develop. My mother and I had regular telephone conversations, but my father’s part in those conversations would consist of a few awkward questions preceding his hasty hand-off of the phone to my mother. However, we began sharing e-mail. I initiated contact by sending my father jokes I thought he would appreciate. Soon, he was forwarding me jokes or articles that he thought I would find interesting. Pretty rapidly the transmission of others thoughts transformed into the transmission of our ideas about these random things that we had encountered online. Soon, I was hearing stories about him growing up, which he had never shared with me in the 18 years we shared a home. I did not begin to really known my father until entering a computer-mediated relationship with him.
CMC has helped create relationships in my life, in addition to strengthening existing relationships. I met my best friend through the use of an online dating service. Match.com declared that we were utterly compatible, and we began communicating with one another through the website. We quickly discovered that were not only compatible, but that we shared the same opinion on almost everything. In fact, our similarities were so striking that, even before meeting each other, we both confessed to other friends that we felt like we had more of a brother-sister bond than a romantic bond, but that we felt compelled to meet each other. Once we met, we discovered that we had absolutely no romantic chemistry with each other, but that we were every bit as compatible offline as we had been online. We met a little over a year ago, and quickly came to consider each other best friends. That relationship would not exist if it were not for Match.com.
My current romantic relationship would suffer, and probably fail, if it were not for the availability of CMC. My significant other and I met in a traditional manner, at a nightclub.
Furthermore, most of our early relationship was spent in a conventional manner; we dated and spent time with each other, using CMC, such as texts and IMs as a way of relaying information about how we would spend our face time, rather than using it as a way to replace face-time. Then, life intervened, as it so often does, and an internship opportunity across the country separated us. Both of us being relatively poor students, we are unable to fly to visit each other frequently. Furthermore, while cell phones and unlimited calling plans have made it possible for us to talk a lot of the time, we have conflicting schedules, which can make it difficult for us to arrange times for any type of lengthy conversation. However, we can spend time e-mailing each other, devoting time to serious discussions, even if those conversations cannot be carried on in real-time. In fact, we use CMC to go on dates. For example, we will arrange to go to the same movie or read the same book, and then discuss the book or movie with each other through e-mail. We are also able to send each other photographs of each other and of things that we are each doing, keeping us intimately involved in each other’s lives.
My answers tell me that CMC can have a very positive impact on interpersonal relationships. Social networking sites can help people meet new people. Of course, not every person that one meets on a social networking site is going to be a friend or a romantic partner, but online networking gives people a larger network of available people than they would meet in their traditional day-to-day activities. CMC can allow people in established relationships to grow closer, by removing barriers to communication and allowing people to communicate with words rather than trying to guess the subtext of conversations. CMC can also keep people close when they are separated by long distances and time differences, which make it difficult for them to see each other in person or communicate in real-time modes, such as the telephone.
While CMC has had a positive impact on my life, I know that CMC can also hurt or hinder relationships. First, many social networking sites give people a feeling of anonymity, and they post intimate details about their personal life. A friend of mine posted details about previous relationships, and then got upset when her current boyfriend asked her for more information about them. She had invited him to be her friend on Facebook, forgetting that doing so would give him access to information about her that she would not normally reveal in the early stages of a relationship. I also know several people who have engaged in online flirtations that would have been considered affairs had the relationships been conducted face-to-face. Therefore, it is clear that while CMC can enhance relationships, it also has the potential to damage relationships.
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