The Facebook Takeover

Are you one of the 750 million people with an active Facebook account?  If so, you are already familiar with the power and influence this social networking site holds.  Facebook is dominating the world of online communications.  Facebook Chat is just another form of Instant Messaging, a quick way to catch up with your friends.

Friends can mean a number of different things to a Facebook savvy individual.  By friends do I mean the number of people you have friend requested?  No, I am talking about the friends you interact with on a regular basis.  The results of research done by  the Michigan State Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media, depicted an overwhelming amount of participants who used Facebook to re-connect with old friends, or maintain previously established stabilized friendships.  A stabilized friendship consists of trust, support, acceptance, emotional closeness and the notion that even if you don’t have specific plans, you will be connecting soon.

Try to remember the last time you talked with your Best Friend.  Maybe you were having lunch, playing a game, or just enjoying each other’s company while lounging at your house.  In any case it is safe to say you were using body language to supplement your verbal conversation.  Body Language is a form of nonverbal communication that centers around kinesics.   Julia T. Wood, author of Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters defines kinesics as movement and position of the body and all it’s parts.  For example, you may have been nodding your head to assure your friend you were listening, or maintaining strong eye contact to show interest in what your friend had to say.  Body language is a large part of communication, but can it be conveyed across an online instant messaging system, like Facebook Chat?

Maybe not body language specifically, but non-verbal communication definitely!   This textbook explains the ambiguity of language.  This means that the words we type can be taken to mean many different things.  Dr. Ana Nogales explains, “Our facial expression, physical gestures, and the emotional tone in our voice alter the meaning of our words, which is why it is very difficult to express ourselves fully and authentically in an email or text-or even in front of a Skype screen.”  You could argue that the same applies to an instant messaging setting.  Not every person will have the same interpretation of a particular statement.  The meaning of the statement remains unclear until clarification is made.  So, when you are typing to a friend you might say, “Are you doing anything tonight?” This can be taken as an invitation or as a question that doubts our social life. Voice inflection is a big part in determining meaning, and is absent in the online world.

Face to Face vs. Online Communication

Listening is another important element in communication between friends.  We all want to feel like our voice is being heard.  When Face to Face we may use minimal encouragers.  These small verbal statements let our friend know that we are still listening and unerstanding what they are saying.  However, the use of these are not normally used in Instant Messaging.  A friend may type a four paragraph story about something they are going through and we realize that it is far harder to clarify misunderstandings when typing.  Sometimes you end up typing at the same time and start answering questions from two messages ago, and it can get very confusing, very quickly.

This usually can happen when you come into the listening barrier of message complexity.  Messgae complexity is can happen when a message is so detailed, specific, or complex that it is hard to follow as a listener.   When we are face to face it is easier to ask questions and possibly use a facial expression (kinesics) to display our confusion.  However, in an online setting this can be more difficult as some people are slower typers and can cause confusion if they ask a question about a statement three messages ago.

Try to remember the last time you talked with your Best Friend through instant message. Were you physically nodding your head when you read what your friend wrote?  Or, maybe you weren’t actively listening and walked away from the computer.  Taking too long to respond to a friend, especially a friend in crisis, can be taken to mean more than it normally does.  Your friend may have thoughts like, “Why isn’t she responding?  Does she not like me?  Why doesn’t she know what to say?”  Even though all you did was go to the kitchen for a snack.

Despite all this talk about how body language is missing from online communication, there are some things that remain the same across both face to face and online communication between friends.  In a study led my Andrew Ledbetter, he found that there are certain, “Relational maintenance behaviors,” that are present across face to face and online instant messaging.  This includes: positivity (a dedication to make interaction and conversation nice and enjoyable), openness (engaging in curious conversation and showing interest in your friend), assurances (making clear your commitment and investment in the friendship), shared networks (engaging in social activities involving the same group of people) and shared tasks (offering a hand in tasks that need to be completely; equally sharing the workload).  Ledbetter’s research explains that these five behaviors remain steady in face to face communication and communication through instant message.

There are many similarities and differences, advantages and disadvantages associated with face to fcae and online communication.  Another advantage involes conflict.  When you are presented with conflict in a face to face situation, your body language can show your emotions.  In an online setting youe emotions are hidden by the computer.  It can be hard to show emotion in a situation where you and you’re friend are arguing.  You can type words that show your emotion, but they cannot physically see how the conflict is affecting you.

There are many types of reactions to conflict.  None more correct than the next.  When experiencing conflict with our friends, it can be hard to control our emotions.  One response that can be seen as ineffective when face to face can be perceived differently in the instant messaging world; the exit response.  The exit response is when you remove your self from the conflict and you refuse to talk about the situation any further.  When typing to a friend and you get into an argument, you can just get up and walk away from the computer.  However, the difference is that your friend canot see your response.  Your friend may be thinking that you just didn’t see her message or had to take a phone call or something like that.

Interpersonal communication is everywhere!  Face to face and online communication.  Verbal and nonverbal communication.  It is important for us to remember that we way be communicating more than we think, even to our frinds in instant messaging.  The internet is a growing technology that is becoming a primary, convenient form of communication, among friends acquaintances, and co-workers.  The fact of the matter is that online communicationis on the rise and will play a large role in developing and maintaining friendships across a long period of time.  According to an article, people spend over 700 million minutes using Facebook.  Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook once tried to constrain growth, but has now accepted it’s success.  As you can see, Facebook is going to be a main component in friendship formation.



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