How does digital communication affect our social behavior?

New technologies can have a lasting impact on the way we live – this is also evident in mobile communications. The diverse communication options offered by smartphones & Co. also have an impact on our social behavior. This is especially true for younger users. The fear that this would lead to an impoverishment of social contacts is not confirmed by experts.

The ability to be reachable almost anytime and anywhere has changed the way we interact. Professionally and privately, mobile technologies make our communication more direct and immediate and make it easier for us to stay connected with people. The influence that this has on our communication behavior is, among other things, the Mannheim communication and media scientist Prof. Dr. Angela Keppler  examined in a  study . Accordingly, communication today often takes place on several levels at the same time: “People still talk to each other, but naturally they also look at their smartphones from time to time,” says the researcher.

The influence of digital means of communication on everyday behavior is particularly evident in  children and adolescents who today grow up with smartphones. Mobile devices have changed the way activities are coordinated, says  Prof. Dr. Johannes Fromme , expert for educational media research and media education at  Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg. Instead of long-term agreements, young people today meet more spontaneously, but also without obligation: meeting points are changed at short notice or last-minute appointments are canceled. With regard to social relationships, Fromme sees the cell phone among young people as the “control center of the social network”. The mobile phone serves primarily to maintain and strengthen existing contacts. On the other hand, short message services offer a good opportunity, especially with new acquaintances, to continue the contact without obligation. Not only does the use of messaging services contribute to the establishment and strengthening of social contacts: According to a current one, activities such as viewing photos and videos on the mobile phone or listening to music on the smartphone are also encouraged Study by the University of Mannheim on  the attachment and exchange among children and young people

Maintaining contacts via smartphone

The  German Institute for Trust and Security on the Internet (DIVSI)  has in its  U25 study “Children, Adolescents and Young Adults in the Digital World”  and in the  U9 Study “Children in the Digital World”  the behavior of young and young users in Examined with regard to digital media. The evaluations show that children and adolescents use mobile technologies intensively to maintain and develop social contacts. Online schools such as Facebook and messaging services such as WhatsApp become important channels for communicating with friends from school. The current KIM  and  JIM studies also come to similar results  of the Media Education Research Association Southwest, which investigate media use by children (6-13 years old) and adolescents (12-19 years old). As the DIVSI U25 study points out, the term “friend” is viewed more differently today than in the past. The young users deliberately differentiate between Facebook friends, personal acquaintances and close friends. For example, the number of online friends does not have a major impact on the circle of close friends.

Digital media also play an important role in the separation from the parental home, since they offer spaces into which parents can only partially see. The educational scientist Fromme explains that smartphones and cell phones support young people in developing and maintaining their own relationships outside of the family environment.

Online communication is a complement, not a substitute

The DIVSI-U25 study does not confirm the sometimes expressed fear that digital media would have a negative impact on the social behavior of young people – on the contrary: In their evaluation, the researchers came to the conclusion that the combination of different means of communication leads to social integration in the Family and friends can be promoted. Together with the “offline communication” with family members and friends, the authors believe that digital media make a significant contribution to establishing identity and the self-image of children, young people and young adults. Fromme also concludes that “face-to-face communication” with friends and acquaintances is not replaced by digital forms of communication, but continued, can be supplemented and partly even deepened. An actual On the one hand, a study by the University of Mainz (as of March 2015)  on the effects of intensive internet consumption on young people confirms that digital social networks are beneficial for the connection to peers. On the other hand, the study warns of the danger of excessive or addictive use.

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