Communication Theory in a Social Media World

by My Web Writers

Social media has changed the landscape of communication redefining how “e-relationships” develop and are perpetuated. Ultimately, we stand at a crossroad facing the choice to use the available technologies of social media to facilitate communication or “miss the bus” entirely. From SEO content specialists like those at My Web Writers blogging about trends in e-commerce to educators debating the role social media should play in the classroom, the basic system still hasn’t changed. Whether written in caves or transmitted electronically, messages have been encoded, sent, decoded, and returned.  Inevitably, theories were developed to study these systems and help explain how and why they function. The means used to accomplish this vary but the road traveled will always be termed communication.

Communication Theory begins Face-to-Face

Basic communication theory focuses on the conversation or “face-to face” interaction.  A person has an idea they want to share. This idea is encoded (put into words) and transmitted through a channel (voice-to-ear) to another. That individual decodes the message and encodes feedback (verbal or nonverbal) indicating their understanding, or lack of it, to return.  This process is repeated until the interaction was complete. Its overall effectiveness is also dependent on noise (physical, psychological, or environmental) and context.

First Impressions of Social Media

Initially, many considered Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and the like had forever changed that. People worldwide believed this “machine system” had altered some crucial element adversely affecting the character and quality of messages being sent and received. Feedback was delayed or simply nonexistent; the channel was comprised of masses of electronically generated “ones and zeros”, and the context was imaginary.  Social media was deemed undisciplined and potentially dangerous.

Positive Impact of Social Media

Social media hasn’t changed communication theory but rather illuminated a different facet.  According to Northern Illinois University’s Dr. David Gunkel, social media “…has returned us to a part of communication theory that we had forgotten about.”  He cites James W. Carey’s opinion that communication isn’t just transmissional, as described above, but also “ritualistic”.  Social media help build, enhance and reinforce the rituals that comprise our “communities” defining who we are with a speed and immediacy that traditional methods can match. Gunkel points to the entomological relationship between “common”, “communities”, and “communication” as evidence of that link.

The photos of family events that once had to be sent through the mail can now be put in a scrapbook on Pinterest or posted on Facebook.  Video of a child’s first steps can be seen on Youtube within minutes. Updates concerning events of every type reach interested people within seconds via Twitter. Resumes can now be viewed by employers all over the world 24 hours a day via LinkedIn.

The Changing View of Communication and Social Media

It’s tempting to focus only on the negatives of social media but it’s also unrealistic.  Educators shouldn’t lament the passing of teaching techniques once employed but rather rejoice in the greater insights it can offer and the benefits it can have for students. Simply plugging in different terms into the traditional communication model shows us that the basic structure hasn’t changed. Substitute keyboard for encode/decode and screen-to-screen for channel. We are still both sender and receiver worrying about correct feedback. What used to happen with facial expressions and body language is now accomplished through emoticons and internet acronyms.

Social Media Conclusions

The emergence of social media is an important facet of traditional communication theory.  We do more harm than good by denying its significance and positive role they play.  Do we exploit the benefits or bury our heads in the sand? Social media will always wield the power to harm, but we owe it to ourselves to at least have a better understanding of its benefits as well as dangers.  Think of what can accomplished not just for how we communicate with each other but how it enhances the rituals of our families and  in turn, society overall. Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook are simply tools in the communication toolbox.  If and how we use them ultimately depends on us.

~Jim

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4 Comments

Filed under Education Strategy, Social Media

4 responses to “Communication Theory in a Social Media World

  1. I think what we educators lament is not the good that can come from social media, but that it has become a weak substitute for real social activities: we no longer actually roflol; we just jab out those letters with a straight face and move on. Electronic social media gives an excuse for not actually relating, but just writing about it. No one actually visits anyone in person anymore. Letters from my mom no longer contain her beloved handwriting. Xo’s from my daughter are just not the same as the real thing. It could be a great tool, but iwe have become its tools, instead.
    The teacher now can reach into the home even more, and rather than saving time, it causes more work in that way. Students cannot hear the tone of voice, cannot see the teacher struggle with emotions while reading a moving piece of literature, cannot ask spontaeous questions or hear their classmates echo their thoughts. So much is missing. We fear creating humanoids instead of raising up real, usable humans.
    And too many straight-A students are graduating with no knowledge, no real understanding. If it does not appear on a screen, they cannot grasp it. And too often, still, electricity fails us and we cannot cause it to appear on a screen.
    Social studies teachers are afraid of what is happening because it is beneath the level of the human, or even of the higher animals, and is anti-social.
    English teachers are afraid of it because we no longer learn English, but just learn to type it. Not the same. Not. And with any social whim, these guardians of our mother tongue find themselves in the wrong again, having to reinvent the wheel again, with all the guidelines of “communication” changed again.
    Math teacher are afraid because kids no longer know how to figure averages or convert to percents.
    Etc.
    The mom “filming” the baby’s first steps is being a social being, and the baby is learning. When she then plunks him before a DVD, it breaks down.

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