Dr. Lance Strate
Communication in New Media
February 27th, 2010
CYBERSPACE COMMUNICATION: THE NEW FRONTIER
Dr. Lance Strate
Communication in New Media
February 27th 2010
CYBERSPACE COMMUNICATION: THE NEW FRONTIER
“Why Gen –Y Jonny Can’t read Nonverbal Cues” was the title of the article I recently read in the Wall Street Journal by Mark Bauerlein that inspired this reflection paper. Many studies throughout the years have shown that approximately 80% of all communication is non-verbal with facial expressions and body language. I can clearly see the lack of socialization among the youth in this country as presented in this article. The article also addresses the time spent on social networking amongst middle and high school students. The statistics as shown in this article are astounding. According to the Nielsen mobile survey, teenagers spend an average of nine hours per week on social networking not including email, blogging, IM, tweets, and other digital electronics. Bauerlein goes on to state that all of our communication tools today involve the exchange of the written word alone. The cell phone is really the only transmission the youth of today experiences with voices, and verbal tones of communication. He stresses that what is absent in the text dependent world is that the users can only insert smiley faces into emails, but we cannot see each other‘s posture, hand gestures or body language. He speaks about anthropologist Edward T. Hall and how he reviews human expression as “the silent language.” The author feels that his writing on nonverbal communication deserves continued attention. He goes on to say that Hall explained to U.S. diplomats that they could enter a foreign country knowing their native tongue, but they will still have miscommunication amongst each other due to not using the proper manners and gestures, along with the words of that country’s native language. These are known as cultural miscues. For example, I heard a story once where an American executive went to a Muslim country to do business. During his business meeting, the American crossed his leg and the sole of his shoe was facing his Muslim counterpart. He did not close the deal because in Muslim countries, the sole of the shoe is considered to be very dirty. Therefore, the Muslim businessman was extremely insulted and offended by the American’s behavior. Another story was related to me about another American who was trying to do business in India. At the business dinner, the American went to reach for something at the table with his left hand. The dinner ended abruptly as the American unknowingly had committed a faux pas. You see, in the Indian culture, they consider the left hand to be reserved only for bathroom hygiene. Thus, the American’s cultural miscue lost him a big sale. Hall believes that this “silent language” is not learned in schooling but is acquired. Mark Bauerlien states in the closing of his article “the next time people are faced with a twenty-something who doesn’t look them in the eye, who slouches and sighs for no apparent reason, who seems distracted and unaware of the rising frustration of the other people in the room, and who turns aside to answer a text message with glee and facility, they shouldn’t think, “what a rude kid.” Instead, they should show a little compassion and perhaps, seize on a teachable moment.” “Ah,” they might think instead, “another texter who doesn’t realize what he is doing right now, with every glance and movement –and that we’re reading him all too well.” (Mark Bauerlien)
Cyberspace is becoming a new frontier for relationships; people can make friends, join social networking sites, clubs, and even a child can have a relationship with a stuffed animal through imaginary play by signing into cyberspace and bonding with their animal and connecting with other followers. What happened to the way your sacred beloved animal made you feel when you embraced it?
The sensors which differ between “face to face” relationships to cyberspace relationships begin with hearing which does not occur while the written word is being used. There is no emotional aspect to the thoughts unless you add a symbol to your text such as a smiley face icon. Now all computers have a built in process for doing so. Critics state there are no emotions connected to your words via texts or email. You can ultimately respond when you want too, and anywhere you want. The user also even has the advantage of saving part of the communication or the entire communication within the relationship if the user wishes to do so. This was very evident in the recent Tiger Wood’s scandal, where the media was able to show the public all of the text messages saved by his alleged mistresses. With face to face communication, your words and your gestures do have meaning, and it is very much so in the physical world. People have different styles of communication as well. For example, I am more of a verbal communicator and prefer “face to face” communication; I am often referred to as a people person. Seeing is another sensor, although new media is allowing the computers to be more transparent with applications like Skype. Skype uses VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) to send voice over an internet connection instead of standard phone lines. Skype has all the same features as a standard phone. However, it offers many extras like an online phone number and video calls. Skype’s software interface also has many nice features like instant messaging, text messaging and call forwarding. Calls between Skype users are free and only require users to install the Skype software to establish a connection. Experts believe that this will untimely affect cyberspace relationships, because you will be able to visually see the other person, and you will not have established prejudged notions about the other person with whom you are connecting. In other words, through the written word or text messaging, one is able to be freer with the words and communicate more openly, and by visual images you sometimes establish a prejudice about individuals and do not take time to learn their inner soul.
I am more in tune to my changing surroundings and their connection to cyberspace now that I have been introduced to the studies of Neil Postman, Walter Ong, and Marshall Mchuhan. I am also old enough to feel the change and be part of it. I just recently was on an outing with a group of women whom were in their , 60’s and 70’s , I can’t tell you what a pleasure it was to sit around the lunch table with 12 women whom were not texting, IM’ing, and were truly engaged in conversation with each other. This was, however, until my friend, who is a twenty-something herself, texted me from three banquet tables away to tell me she was full. That just killed the moment for me. I notice that my younger colleagues cannot remove themselves from their hand held devices like the blackberry or their phones during work hours. It is amazing to watch the quest for cell service in the building where I work. It becomes part of their daily ritual. These people will practically stand on their heads to gain a bar on their phones. At any chance they are given to move around the hospital with their devices they do, just to get a glimpse of their Facebook or to post their status. I now have to put a ban on all electronics from the lunch table while I am eating with coworkers during the day. I just don’t want to look at the back of a blackberry and have no face to face communication – just call me old fashioned.
Social networking has its advantages, however, especially during the recent earthquake in Haiti; people were drawn to their computers, posting pictures of missing loved ones and reaching out into this cyberspace culture for support and help. This social networking worked as almost an instant comfort for families whom were affected. It also gave the instant gratification of hope. In addition, I will never forget one of the images shown on the news covering the stories of the ravished earthquake country. It zoomed in on one of the tent towns which were set up. There was a group of men sitting around a make shift generator that had a long piece of wood where a row of cell phones were being charged by a Delco car type battery in hopes to stay connected. Social networking is often equated to people sitting around an open campfire taking and telling stories. This vision of these survivors really hit home to me that in the worst of times people are drawn to this new media resource as a life line. Cell phones also are playing a large part of the fund raising relief. One is able to donate by texting a certain message via cell phones, and I believe that this was the first of its kind in any fund raising efforts.
As I stated in my blog “New New Media” Can you remember a time when you could go to the mall or see a show without getting interrupted? Furthermore, can you remember a time when you could not be found for even five minutes, and that was okay with everyone around you? Those days seem to have long passed us by. It appears that we, as a society, have become obsessed with the current technology age, or are we just “amusing ourselves to death?” (Neil postman) I believe it is a little of both. It now seems that you cannot go anywhere without someone texting around you or posting on their status. It can be a salesperson in between the counter and cash register, a student trying to hide behind a book, the person in line to receive communion in church, or most of all, the audience in a live theater performance, which ends up looking like a room full of lightning bugs in a open field. It seems like the teaching of Marshall Mchuhan’s theory of media being an extension of man was not so far removed from where we are today in the era of texting and social networking sites.
In social networking the three “E’s” (event, experience, and environment) apply, but are different in face to face communication. The event in cyberspace is what takes place, when you are posting on your status, or blogging. It also could be the search for new online friends or groups with the same interests, relatives, past friends, or friends that are being connected to you through others. There is now a website called www.meetup.com. On this website you enter your zip code and all of your hobbies and interests. They, in turn, send you a listing of all groups such as book clubs, hiking clubs, etc. that are meeting in your area.
When I first signed up for Facebook, I was a little unsettled at the fact that the instant I was in the cyberspace world, I had immediate friends’ requests. I agree with Paul Levinson’s theory on online friends and offline friends. Paul Levinson, in his book, “New New Media” refers to friends on your social networking sites as “online friends.” The principle behind “online friends” is that they have little in common with real-life friends or friend’s offline, in the real world. According to Levinson, to be friends with someone offline, to be even a casual acquaintance, means you know many things about them, including what they look and sound like. Offline impersonations are, of course, possible, but they happen much less frequently than online. Levinson states the following, “Indeed by far the best of way of authenticating an online friend’s identify is to know that person offline- we might say that online friends are bona fide to the degree that they are offline friends.” (Paul Levinson pg.103).
The second “E” – experience is what you take away from the sites. I believe that these sites are formulating into a “global village”, that Marshall Mchuhan warned us about. Citizens share a culture in common with that of an oral culture, but now has reversed back to the printed word form of communication through electronic speed. I myself am what you call a realist. I prefer face to face communication and believe it is the oldest form of communication. I do not find all these meaningless posts and status updated on the social networking sites enjoyable. I do not need to know the up to date minute to minute going on in the lives of my online friends. I must admit, however, I am drawn each day to these sites as part as my daily ritual. Face to face communication requires interpersonal skills and real time social interaction and non verbal gestures which are missing in cyberspace.
Computers introduced us to computer mediated communication; this form of communication is able to unite people in groups, another process that can be traced back to oral culture. Therefore, Walter Ong refers to this as the concept of secondary orality. “According to Lance Strate, secondary orality, such as micro-blogging, can have a leveling effect on people. Computer mediated communication that is made possible through the technologies of chat room, instant messaging and micro-blogging are more of an informal nature that communication in a primary oral culture. People are usually addressed by their first names or nicknames. We can argue that this leveling effect goes even further in that it gives everyone the idea that their opinion matters. Because you blog, you exist.” (Stephen Barmentioo, Matters of Media, October 2008).
The final “E” - environment, is in the present, and with social networking, you leave the physical world behind you. The environment is what you yourself create when you go on to these websites, or use technology, whether it be booking a Caribbean vacation, and you are engrossed in the vision of white sand beaches, or blogging on your interest. The virtual environment is brought to you by your media. You can be connected anytime and anywhere. This is different from years ago when you just had your computer screen to stare into. Now cyberspace is mobile. Just like in the Women’s Snowboarding Olympic event, I recently viewed; an athlete in Vancouver was getting ready to embark on
the race of her life, when she reached into her pocket and changed the tunes on her I-pod. The iPod became the setting for her virtual environment. She was ultimately creating her setting while using “new new media.”
“In cyberspace communication, such as e-mail and chat, people travel across time and space with the physical body. But in contrast to ubiquitous, media, and teleconferencing spaces, computer networking systems do not include personal visual information.” Hiem (1993), in “The Metaphysis of Virtual Reality,” states that “being a body constitutes the principle behind our separateness from one another and behind our personal presence. Visual information about the physical body in cyberspace communication has positive and negative implications. On the one hand, eliminating the body makes us more equal because we no longer have access to the visual information of sex, age, and race. But on the other hand, the quality of human relationships narrows, because unlike face to face communication, we do not have a full range of visual and verbal sensory information.” (Strate, Jacobson, Gibson pg.249)
All of this new cyberspace technology has created a culture of impatience within our society. How many of us when we start up our computers, for example, sigh exasperated at the two minutes it takes for the computer to boot up, saying to ourselves “How long is this going to take? “ We tap our fingers on the desk and breathe heavily in frustration. “We live in the culture where the
young people –outfitted with I-phones and laptops are devoting hours every evening from the age 10 onward to messaging of one kind and another are ever less likely to develop the “silent fluency” that comes from face to face interaction. It is a skill that we must learn, in actual social setting, from people (often older) who are adept in the idiom, as the text-centered messaging increases, such occasions diminish. The digital natives improve their adroitness at the keyboard, but when it comes to their capacity to “read” the behavior of others, they are all thumb”. (Bauerlein)
Levinson, Paul. New New Media. Penguin Academics, 2009. Print.
Strate, Lance, Ron L. Jacobson, and Stephanie B. Gibson. Communication and Cyberspace. second ed. N.p.: Hampton Press, 2003. Print.
Postman, Neal. Amusing Ourselfs to Death. N.p.: n.p., 1985. Print.
"The Importance of Face to Face." Communication at work. Ed. Chuck Martin. N.p., 6 Mar. 2007. Web. 19 Feb. 2010.
Bauerlein, Mark. "Why Gen -YJonny Can't Read." Wall Street Journal 28 Aug. . Print.