Who doesn’t use the internet as a means of communication these days? But have you ever wondered about the effect it has on how we perceive life?
Internet communication has risen drastically over the last couple of decades. More of us own mobile phones, computers and laptops. Social media sites are a marvellous way of keeping in touch with far-flung family members and friends. We connect in an instant with people halfway across the world. It really is an amazing time for communication.
But as with all progress, there are caveats. No one has set up internet etiquette. I mean, what is the correct response time to reply to a text or email? As a result, misunderstandings occur and colour our perception of life.
Consequently, as we spend more time on the internet, we become increasingly isolated from the real world. We might read internet slang like LMAO or LOL but it doesn’t make us feel the same way as a good belly laugh with friends. So how exactly does talking on the internet affect us?
How Can Internet Communication Affect Our Life?
We do not have body language cues to help us
When we communicate on the internet, there’s no change in the tone or pitch in our voices, and we don’t see body language or facial expressions. As a result, we cannot gauge emotion in what the other person is saying. That person isn’t physically present in our space. This creates an emotional vacuum that provides us with a barrier.
Think of internet trolls or keyboard warriors. Would they say the same things to the person if they were face to face? It’s very unlikely. But communicating on the internet is different from real life as we’re not there in person.
Words in black on a white background are stark and immediate. There’s no nuance, no soft approach, it’s bang in your face, whether you want to read it or not. You have to decipher its meaning without any of the normal real-world cues you usually have to help you.
We make judgements based on how a person writes
When we communicate using the internet, we can take our time to reply when it suits us. As a result, we can be careful about our choice of words and the language we use. This forms an impression on the person reading it.
They start giving you certain attributes depending on your language. They use your own words to create a mental image of the kind of person you are. This is Social Information Processing Theory. It’s when the person keeps using another’s messages to develop characteristics of that person in their own mind.
For example, if someone made repeated spelling mistakes, you might make assumptions about their intelligence. On the other hand, if a person used interesting words and metaphors, you might think they are creative.
Posting positive images promotes positive behaviour
Can communicating online actually make us better people? Take the ubiquitous selfie. People will go to extraordinary lengths to present themselves in the best possible way.
Doctoring pictures to produce a good image which then gets posted online for critical analysis. But despite the fact that many see selfies as a form of 21st-century narcissism, there are signs that the selfie promotes better behaviour in people.
It’s kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you post a wonderful picture of yourself and people comment on how lovely you look, the chances are you will start acting in that wonderful way. It is as if you are holding a mirror up to yourself. The person benefits from creating a better version of themselves.
We can easily misinterpret internet communication
You send an email or text and don’t get a reply. You start to worry. Perhaps the person is upset with you? Maybe you have done something to annoy them? Then you get angry. They are obviously ignoring you.
But in reality, they may just be thinking about how to respond and this is why they haven’t answered you. In real life, if you asked someone a question and they didn’t have an answer, they would just say ‘I’ll need to think about it.’
But when it comes to online chatting, you’ve already made your assumptions. But now your perception of what’s really going on is skewed.
Relationships are formed too quickly
However, on the internet, there’s no such thing as small talk. Instead, there are posts, statements and retweets which people can then ‘like’ or comment on. As a result, we quickly form opinions of these individuals and feel a connection based on what we perceive we have in common.
This is Social identity-deindividuation theory. It’s where people chatting online jump in too quickly and misjudge the similarities they share with groups of others.
They tend to grab onto the things they have in common and as such, they form instant friendships with the people in these groups. They have quickly formed favourable impressions based on their common shared interests.
It is only later that they find out about individual differences. The relationships start well enough on the premise of the group’s common goals, problems, interests or loves. However, an individual’s differences are missing and these do not get discussed until the favourable impressions are already made.
It allows us to disengage from the present
We hear about mindfulness and how important it is to be in the present moment all the time. However, one study suggests that communicating online is distracting us from the present.
A Canadian study asked young people about internet communication and how it affected their health and wellbeing. One concern centred on mindfulness and how spending time chatting online caused a lack of engagement with a person’s surroundings.
Some participants even recorded they felt hypnotised by their online chatting. This distorted their perception of what was going on around them.
Many of them felt disengaged from the present moment. They were not paying attention to what was going on around them. They were completely absorbed in what they were doing online. It was as if life was passing them by.
Internet communication is only likely to increase over the next few decades.
We don’t live in tightknit communities anymore. We live in a fragmented world and as such, we need to communicate online.
So whether you are involved in blogging, web hosting, selling or you’re simply someone chatting online, knowing the benefits and disadvantages of communicating online can help us avoid any misconceptions in the future.
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