Interpersonal and Intercultural Communication

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In the past several decades, the appearance of computer-mediated means of communication has significantly affected interpersonal and intercultural communication. Internet connection and social network sites unite people all around the world and make their socializing convenient. Today, almost every person from any country can travel online, have friends abroad, and express his/her thoughts on various blogs. Both interpersonal and intercultural communication has become easier and more effective. The reason is that people have become closer to each other due to the Internet. At the same time, the issues of self-identity and self-actualization have altered since every person is able to control his/her words before publishing them online. Besides, people have learned to satisfy their basic needs of communication by the means of technologies and social network sites. Therefore, the concept of culture is becoming more globalized; and the comprehension of culture changes. Although social network sites have made interpersonal and intercultural communication easier, their effect on each level of hierarchy of needs and culture is harmful.

Many people do not understand what the phrase interpersonal communication means. According to Wood (2012), “interpersonal communication is a distinct type of interaction between people” (p. 18). Two people can live together, but if they have the problems with interpersonal socializing, they will get divorced eventually (Wood, 2012, p. 19). In modern times, most of young people have smartphones and their Facebook accounts registered there. They are online everywhere. It may be in a classroom, coffee house, while having a party with friends or a family supper. Actually, they are among other people, i.e. they communicate with them but do not interact. It means that while a person is online, he/she cannot focus his/her attention on real people who are nearby. Therefore, interpersonal communication does not occur. Although one can argue that such socializing with Facebook or Twitter friends is also important, it is not the same because it is not real. Even if a person knows all those friends in reality, computer-mediated communication will alter his/her perception of them, as well as it will reduce their time spent offline together.     

Interestingly, the impact of computer-mediated communication on physical needs of communication is controversial. According to Maslow, the hierarchy of needs consists of five basic levels, i.e. physical, safety, belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization (Wood, 2012, p. 10). Not only a face-to-face communication but also computer-mediated socializing can satisfy basic human needs. When several decades ago people had to see each other, talk to each other, and have some physical contact to satisfy physical communication needs, today, they have become addicted to technological gadgets. People feel a physical necessity of taking their smartphones, tablets or laptops and writing messages to one of their friends. Moreover, they are afraid of losing their gadgets, especially, their smartphones. Psychologists even have created a new name to such kind of phobia – nomophobia, which means no- mo(bile) phone-phobia (Archer, 2013). The recent research has showed, “41 percent of Britons feel anxious and not in control when detached from their smartphone or tablet and 51% admitted to suffer from “extreme tech anxiety” at one time or another” (Archer, 2013). It is evident that interpersonal communication is also affected. When people type messages to their friends in Facebook or Twitter, they do not have any physical contact with them. On the contrary, Facebook users become less sociable and more alienated from real friends. Intercultural communication is being affected too. Even if people travel to another country and want to know a different culture better, their physical addiction to smartphones and tablets will not allow them to comprehend that culture. Thus, a person can communicate with a representative of a different country. However, this socializing will be rather perfunctory than informative because the collocutors will try to satisfy their physical needs to see and feel their gadgets. Therefore, in times of technologies and the Internet, physical needs of communication have been modified. It, in turn, has led to tangible changes in interpersonal and intercultural communication.   

The second level of Maslow’s hierarchy is a need of safety and protection (Wood, 2012, p. 10). Several decades ago, people had to visit doctors, security managers, and other specialists who could satisfy their needs of safety. They would talk to a specialist and feel protection after such conversation. Thus, interpersonal communication was productive and effective. Today, everything has changed. When a person is ill, he/she can find any doctor via Facebook and ask him/her for some help online. Of course, one cannot save an individual who needs a surgical interference. However, those who have some insignificant diseases can feel safe after consulting an online doctor. Moreover, there is no need to search for security managers to install a system of security at home because everything can be found online as well. People feel safe when they install anti-virus programs. Otherwise, they begin to worry after receiving an e-mail alert. Individuals feel protected when their gadgets are switched on. Moreover, they have the Internet connection but not when they are with others. There is no necessity of personal physical contact with other human beings; and this fact is frightening. Therefore, interpersonal communication is being suffered on the level of safety because people’s demands have altered.

In addition, the belonging needs alter as well. When earlier, a person was socially active and attended different meetings, groups, and circles to satisfy his/her needs of belonging. There is no such necessity anymore. People can create accounts, become the members of online groups and communities, and they do not even have to go out. They are sitting at their rooms or offices and believe that they belong to that or this community without being physically present there. Such isolation is dangerous for human socialization. Modern teenagers satisfy their needs of belongings in social network sites and avoid the participation in real activities. The more time they spend in isolation from real people, the more problems they will face with socializing in the future. They will not be able to interact and communicate with their possible employers or partners, and it will lead to unfavorable outcomes. Therefore, it is necessary to satisfy one’s needs of belonging by a means of communication with real people but not Facebook or Twitter friends. Otherwise, interpersonal communication will be affected negatively.

The situation with the needs of self-esteem and self-actualization is even worse. Nowadays, people use social network sites to satisfy their basic needs of communication. On the one hand, such possibility is a good chance to promote oneself in the labor market or other social communities. On the other hand, the comprehension of one’s self-identity also changes. A person can get entangled in his/her ego. Self-esteem needs “involve valuing and respecting ourselves and being valued and respected by others” (Wood, 2012, p. 12). Earlier, people had to gain respect of others by their behavior, words, and actions. Today, they can use social network sites to create any image they want. The users of social websites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Face-time, Skype, and others, feel self-control because they can introduce themselves to others from the best perspective. It means that they do not show their real selves but publish only the information they want the rest people to know about them. According to Casale and Fioravanti (2015), “CMC [computer-mediated communication] might represent an ideal tool for communicating among those people who are concerned with displays of imperfection due to fears of being judged and negatively evaluated” (p. 35). The authors claim that computer-mediated communication has a positive effect on those persons who are afraid of being judged negatively. On the one hand, they can represent themselves from the best perspectives they wish so that other people will perceive them as ideal personalities. However, if such an individual looks for a real job or wants to find a beloved one, and he/she publishes untruthful information to win the attention and confidence, such attempts will end with a failure. Although the needs of self-esteem are satisfied in the beginning, they will be broken in the end. The process of self-actualization is similar. A person wants to discover one’s talents or skills via Facebook. However, the other users will judge not this individual but his or her personal account, which may be untruthful. In such a way, a person will be convinced of his/her quick-wittedness or physical fitness while, in reality, he/she may be obese and slow-witted. Of course, many people use Facebook to show their real achievements and skills. However, one cannot evaluate this progress online. Still, the best assessment of personality’s skills can be made through face-to-face interpersonal communication. Although some users can satisfy their self-esteem and self-actualization needs by the means of computer-mediated socialization, this satisfaction will be temporary. Therefore, it can vanish in face-to-face communication.

Social network sites have a negative influence on interpersonal socializing within a family of a user. Al-Khaddam (2013) affirms, “Facebook helps to reduce the interaction of the […] families” (p. 22). According to the study conducted among the students of Irbid National University, Facebook reduces face-to-face contact (52.3%) and increases telephone contact with family members (37.2%) (Al-Khaddam, 2013, p. 21). Such results show that students prefer to message to their online friends instead of communicating with their parents or siblings face-to-face. Moreover, the personal communication with friends is also reduced. Students find it easier to communicate with others via Facebook. However, interpersonal socializing becomes less efficient and more awkward. Besides, not only interpersonal but also intercultural communication is affected by the use of social network websites.

For many ages, every country or nation has had its unique culture. With the appearance of technology and the Internet, the notion of culture has altered. People from different countries have gained the possibility to interact and stay in touch at any distances. They can “sustain their culture’s beliefs, values, norms, and social practices” (Lustig & Koester, 2009, p. 38). For example, those who cannot participate in a Hindu prayer ceremony in India’s holy city of Varanacy can do it online (Lustig & Koester, 2009, p. 38). Social network sites allow sharing photos, ideas, and thoughts about one’s country. In spite of all these benefits, there is a great risk of changing the nature of the culture itself (Lustig & Koester, 2009, p. 38). The main hazard is the impact on people’s perception of other countries through the Internet. For instance, a citizen of Japan has two hundred Facebook friends; at least fifty of them are Americans. Most of them publish photos, on which they eat fast-food products and entertain in different parties. It is evident that the Japanese could think that all Americans are fast-food eaters who like to lead a dissipated life. However, it is not true. Moreover, the Americans might think that all Japanese are biased. In such a way, the apprehension of culture and intercultural communication alter.

Another negative outcome of social network sites usage is their influence on language. Facebook or Twitter users try to shorten the words when they write messages to their friends to make their communication faster. Thus, they change their vocabulary and norms for usage (Wood, 2012, p. 91). Since they write too many posts, e-mails, and text messages, informal style of writing becomes a norm for them. As a result, the students use e-communication style to do their home assignments and even write to their teachers (Wood, 2012, p. 91). One cannot call such changes positive because young people become illiterate and make mistakes in their writings. It, in turn, can lead to negative consequences in their future interviews with potential employers or other formal meetings. Therefore, it is necessary to admit that computer mediated communication has a negative impact on the formation of literacy and intelligence. It leads to ineffective interpersonal socializing.   

There are also those who believe that computer-mediated communication is beneficial for both interpersonal and intercultural communication. According to Samovar, Porter, and Stefani (1997), “computer technology has the potential to transform the educational environment and resolve some of the current problems in multicultural education” (p. 218). Of course, the teachers from different countries can invite international students to study at their universities, using social network sites to promote educational establishments. Moreover, learners often use Facebook or Skype to ask their friends for help when they need to conduct some researches and do home tasks. Besides, people can exchange information about their cultures, send books, images, and even videos to each other when it is needed. For example, one Asian student needs to write an essay about his visit to Disneyland in France. He can look for an individual, who lives there, in Facebook, and ask this person to help him. In such a way, the Asian student can virtually attend Disneyland and write a perfect essay. All these advantages are evident. However, one cannot deny that interpersonal communication suffers. Again, social network sites’ users do not interact personally, which leads to their inability to build strong relationships with others in reality. It is easier to ask for help from a person who is beyond a screen than go to a neighbor and disturb him/her. Thus, without such personal interaction and communication, there would be no humanity eventually. As in fantastic fiction films, all people would stay at their separate rooms and speak with their gadgets or robots. Such possibility is not attractive. That is why it is important to remember that social media and computer-mediated communication should not substitute face-to-face socializing but just supplement it.

New technologies and social network sites make people’s lives easier and communication faster. Every day, individuals can share their thoughts and photos with their friends abroad, express their ideas about other cultures, and even visit different countries online. All these benefits make computer-mediated socializing attractive to human beings. However, there are many negative sides of social network websites, which can lead to harmful outcomes. Thus, Facebook users often feel a physical addiction to their phones or tablets and want to check their message box and type some texts to their friends. Moreover, they feel unsafe when their laptop is not with them. Interpersonal communication becomes ineffective; face-to-face contacts decrease. The perception of other cultures alters because of misrepresentation of Facebook users on their personal accounts. Self-esteem and self-actualization can be positive only online. Meanwhile, in reality, a person is not able to prove that he/she is worthy of attention. Young people cannot express their thoughts and impress other people with their actions and skills because of being afraid of looking awkward. Thus, more and more students prefer online social network sites to show their best features there. Computer-mediated communication allows editing and polishing information about oneself before publishing it. It is impossible in face-to-face socializing. Such situation is controversial and requires further considerations. However, one can conclude that interpersonal and intercultural communication is affected negatively by social network websites.  

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