The explosion of electronic communication through email, texting and social networking has rewarded humans’ interpersonal and emotional needs. It surely pleases us to be responded to quickly and reassures us that we matter to others. Yet, do these forms of connections afford us the same benefits as face-to-face interactions do?
The use of social networks, from pre-adolescent years on, consumes our time, attention and fulfills many of our needs for self-definition, connection, sharing and intimacy with others. We seek different people to reward our varied needs.
Wyndol Furman and Duane Buhrmester’s research with fifth and sixth-grade children found that “Mothers and fathers were turned to most often for affection, enhancement of worth, a sense of reliable aid, and instrumental aid. Friends were the greatest source of companionship, and friends and mothers received the highest ratings of intimacy.”
During adolescence, social network sites enable youngsters to create their own profile and define themselves in ways that help them connect with others. Having friends is crucial to maturing teens as a source of comradery, value setting, sharing and achieving their evolving self-definition. Yet, these images and messages are permanently recorded to enhance or detract from their image in the future.
Adults use electronic social communications for efficient messaging and reconnecting with past friends, in part to recoup their youth and review their historical evolution.
Though these social networks offer great advantages to the self-promotion of one’s image, they pale in comparison to face-to-face connections.
A major component of intimacy extends beyond sharing thoughts and experiences. Emma Rooksby in “E-Mail and Ethics” states, “Empathy is the capacity to experience for oneself, in some form or another, the experiences of other people. We may empathize with others’ sensations, moods and feelings, [that leads to] the social possibilities of mutual understanding, cooperation, and communication.”
To experience deep empathy, one needs more than words on an electronic screen, as deep and revealing as they may be. One needs the visual presence of the other.
Barbara Madonik in “I Hear What You Say, but What Are You Telling Me?” states, “Research documents that from 65 percent to 93 percent of all our face-to-face communication is sent through nonverbal means. Nonverbal communication is a process in which people transmit and receive messages without using words.”
Our local gifted psychiatrist, Dr. Mark Kasprow, adds, ”Digital communication, except through Skype, removes the element of personal accountability, civility of discourse is eradicated and anonymity permits more extreme behavior.”
To preserve authenticity and create true intimate connection:
¨ Use electronic communication for quick messages, important factual transmittal, encouraging messages and thoughtful acknowledgements.
¨ Encourage your youngsters to make friends and define themselves thoughtfully on social sites, knowing that these messages are their permanent self-presentations that may enhance or detract from them in the future.
¨ Implore your teens to add to their electronic communications the face-to-face connections with their close friends for support, shared intimacy and empathic understanding of each other.