communication skills
11 April 2019

How to use Internet wisely to improve your communication skills?

In June 2015, fifteen (15) new words all prefix “online” including “online auction; online banking; online chat; online community”; etc… were added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). This signals the digitally online interactions has become ever more common and popular in our daily life.

Enormous of our living habits has been re-shaped from offline to online patterns, like online shopping; online banking. In many colleges, Information & Communication Technology (ICT) becomes one of the general required course, indicates ICT is now a must-have skill.

This article will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of ICT on interpersonal communications and relationships; analysis how self-management skills can minimize those negative impacts, at the same time enhance our human relationships.

Traditionally, when people want to have a group communication altogether, they need to arrange a physical group meeting or gathering in order to exchange information simultaneously. In such traditional style, people are not only using language communication, also expressing emotions non-verbally like gestures; facial expressions complimented with voice modulation (tone; pitch; silence or pause; etc…), which is effective for in-depth understanding; mutual-observations; facilitate the intimate and bonding; strengthening the long-term interpersonal relationship.

Nowadays, human beings are stepping into digital-era, the development of ICT has increased the multiplexity of social media; diversified communicating medium; tools and platforms. When people want to have a group communication, physical (offline) meeting is one of the available options. As long as their districts are under internet coverage, multiple online communicating methods are available, for example they can use mobile devices to text each other; use online video conference; exchange emails; post their messages on online forum or social media platforms.

Online interactions offer a couple of advantages: Firstly, the mobility – people can travel anywhere or just stay at home; save transit time and transportation fee that occur for offline interactions. Secondly, the flexibility – people can choose their favorite tools; devices and platform which makes the most convenience and efficiency. They can choose their most convenient time to retrieve and reply to their online messages; also the best timing for a simultaneous online video conference, without geographic limitations.

The broad usage of online social networking also promotes self-disclosure especially among teenagers and adolescents – the generation that was born under the digital-era. A study from the University of Washington (2012) surveyed over 2000 youths and the statistics showed that over 90 percent have cell phones while 69 percent of participants constantly exchanging feelings; personal problems and other intimate messages.

A study from Swiss University also shows that people tend to disclose information anonymously online (Misoch, 2015). Generally, people feel they have more freedom also less anxious about being criticized for online self-disclosure anonymously. People can intentionally select contents to disclose in which they feel comfortable and helpful to boost their self-confidence; improve self-image.

The online self-disclosure on social media platforms of individual’s interest; age; thoughts; religious beliefs; etc… increases visibility that provides opportunities for similar people to expand their social circles interculturally; intergenerationally; also interracially through internet connections. Much easier than in the past, people who wish to meet new friends abroad need to air travel for hours; exchanging airmails and wait more than a week or so for the physical mail to arrive.

Although online communications can be considered as time-efficient; cost-effective; borderless; promotes self-disclosure and expansion of social circles. Still, certain limitations and drawbacks are with online interactions. The major difference is the cyber-space can never provide a multi-sensory environment. We cannot smell the air; use our skin to touch and feel the texture; we cannot physically touch each other. As we are human beings, not a data-processing machine, our feelings and memories are usually in multi-sensory, in other words, traditional (offline) interactions should not be fully replaceable by online activities.

The latest research from Carnegie Mellon University (2018) indicated that with a higher frequency of physical touch, individuals experienced a better physical and psychological health, besides, a hug receipt after interpersonal conflicts can decrease negative emotions. Doubtlessly, ICT innovation benefits long-distance relationships (LDR) - couples or family members or friends who are living or staying apart. They no longer need to pay an expensive bill for long-distance calls. The internet can decrease the cost of distance communications, increase their emotional availability; emotional attachment and emotional support by maintaining regular and constant online connections.

However, the researchers from Brigham Young University (2015) argue that the online connections are missing of emotional context and depth, those fingertips online browsing and texting activities can be superficial, abuse usage can even hurt interpersonal relationship. The credibility of online information has been a concern too. It is not uncommon that people create a false or virtual persona, post fake personal information. They can easily shut down their online identity (disappear) anytime, when the relationship is not reliable or committed for long-term, the mutual-trust and satisfaction of relationship will be reduced as a result.

Improper; excessive or addictive usage of ICT can bring us stress for information overwhelming; over-connectedness; distraction of offline relationships, these can harm our mental health as well as our interpersonal relationships. The university of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign surveyed over 300 undergraduate students, as a purpose to explore the association between the addictive and self-destructive behaviors for using cell phones and internet, the study proved that students who are addictive to televisions, video games or smartphones scored higher depression and anxiety (Panova & Lleras, 2016).

For those people who do not possess sharp skills on written communications, for example: a weak-speller; poor typing skill; low typing speed or not feeling comfortable in using wide-ranging vocabularies to express their emotions and meanings accurately may not enjoy online texting or email exchanging. While people who are shy or dull; not sensitive in facial expressions or think their physical appearance not attractive may prefer online communications and find it more effective to express themselves in written words.

Moreover, non-tech savvy and some elderly people may also feel stressed for using ICT and online communications, they may struggle on learning how to use; how to keep their software up-to-date, otherwise they may be labeled as old-fashioned, the young-generation may keep a distance from. Many office workers find themselves suffered from ICT technologies too, the side effect of mobility is on and off hours become vague, boss may expect their staffs to be connected online when they are physically off-duty. These phenomenon represent the tension among our interpersonal relationships in this digital age.

internet communications

As discussed above, ICT influences are paradoxical, can be either positive or negative depends on how we use it and manage it. ICT technologies do provide more choices on social media platforms, channels and networks; tools; electronic devices; etc... for us to communicate; initiate; maintain or terminate our relationships.

We can be flexible in choosing the right ways to interact by considering the purpose of our communications, whether it is business-oriented or people-oriented. For a business purpose, online seems to be competitive; for a personal relationship purpose, a proper allocation between online and offline interactions will be ideal.

We should stay aware of each other’s communicating preference to proactively avoid unnecessary misunderstandings and unpleasant feelings. We can heads up other people our communicating pattern, for example: we will be available on phone only in the morning; checking emails every 2 hours; online messages will be viewed and replied within 24 hours; etc…

This is very simple, non time-consuming, however, can highly reduce or avoid unnecessary anxious during our daily interactions. Also, this small habit can express our care and consideration to other people.

A better understanding on our communicating patterns can reduce the uncertainty, align our social expectation, strengthen our interpersonal bonding.

Davis, K. (2012a). Friendship 2.0: Adolescents experiences of belonging and self-disclosure online. Journal of Adolescence, 35(6), 1527–1536. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2012.02.013 PMID:22475444
J. Holt-Lunstad, T. B. Smith, M. Baker, T. Harris, D. Stephenson. (2015). Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10 (2): 227 DOI: 10.1177/1745691614568352
Mallen, M. J., Day, S. X., & Green, M. A. (2003). Online versus face-to-face conversation: An examination of relational and discourse variables. Psychotherapy, 40(1-2), 155-163. doi:
Misoch, Sabina. (2015). Stranger on the internet: Online self-disclosure and the role of visual anonymity. Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 48, July 2015, Pages 535-541
Michael L. M. Murphy, Denise Janicki-Deverts, Sheldon Cohen. (2018) Receiving a hug is associated with the attenuation of negative mood that occurs on days with interpersonal conflict. PLOS ONE, 13 (10): e0203522 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0203522
Tayana Panova, Alejandro Lleras. (2016). Avoidance or boredom: Negative mental health outcomes associated with use of Information and Communication Technologies depend on users’ motivations. Computers in Human Behavior, 58: 249 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2015.12.062

Photo credits:
Photo by Mario Purisic on Unsplash
Photo by Rafael Ishkhanyan on Unsplash