Glance around a restaurant and you’ll be hard-pressed to find people who don’t have their heads down using their cell phones to text, Tweet, or update their Facebook statuses—all while sharing a meal with others at their table.
Social media’s effect on our ability to interact and communicate is visible throughout all areas of society, so what does this mean for interpersonal communication? According to Paul Booth, PhD, an assistant professor of media and cinema studies in the College of Communication at DePaul University in Chicago, social media certainly affects how we engage with one another across all venues and ages. “There has been a shift in the way we communicate; rather than face-to-face interaction, we’re tending to prefer mediated communication,” he says. “We’d rather e-mail than meet; we’d rather text than talk on the phone.”
According to Booth, studies have shown that people actually are becoming more social and more interactive with others, but the style of that communication has changed so that we’re not meeting face-to-face as often as we used to.
That said, our interactions on social media tend to be weak ties—that is, we don’t feel as personally connected to the people at the other end of our communication as we do when we’re face-to-face. “So while we’re communicating more, we may not necessarily be building relationships as strongly,” Booth says.
Three key issues are surfacing regarding the role social media now plays in people’s communication styles, Booth notes. First, when we communicate through social media, we tend to trust the people on the other end of the communication, so our messages tend to be more open. Second, our social connections are not strengthened as much through social media as they are face-to-face, so we don’t tend to deepen our relationships—they tend to exist in the status quo. Last, we tend to follow and interact with people who agree with our points of view, so we aren’t getting the same diversity of...