Much like the invention of the telephone, the creation of the Internet has launched a series of arguments regarding its role in everyday life of common people. Some claimed that it was a magic pool of incredible opportunities; others insisted that it was a Pandora’s Box that would make people even lazier. As it always happens, the truth seems to lie somewhere in the middle between these statements.
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Despite the fact that social media clearly poses a tangible threat to the culture of live communication and, therefore, will contribute to the shriveling of people’s social skills, computer mediated interpersonal and intercultural communication will allow for creating a stronger bond between the representatives of different cultures and brings the effects of prejudice down even among the members of communities where cultural, national and ethnic diversity is rather low.
The fact that new media offers better opportunities for multicultural experiences cannot be viewed as either a positive or a negative effect of social networking – at least, it cannot be positioned as such on its own. Modern media should be viewed as a tool that can be used for educational, professional and personal purposes.
While the fact that more people are capable of learning about other nationalities and having unique communication experiences with them is definitely far from negative, its effects should be mentioned to define the value of the given phenomenon.
The first positive effect to be mentioned, in fact, has a lot to do with education. As it has been stressed above, modern media open a pool of opportunities for multicultural education, which is, in fact, a direct result of diversity and multiculturalism principles having their effect on various aspects of people’s lives. Traditional methods of learning and teaching can, thus, be mixed with the ones that are widely accepted in other cultures, yet are positioned as innovational in the recipient one.
For example, social networking may help students learn a particular subject, such as the English language. Creating a specific group in Facebook where one can post exercises, rules and tips, or a Twitter group, where one can post short comments regarding the language, its specifics, students’ success and impressions can be of great effect for ESL students. More to the point, the tips on how to connect Facebook posts with “twits” already exist, which means that, when combined together, several social networks and other computer media may have an even greater effect on students’ progress.
When it comes to defining the positive aspects of computer mediated communication, one might want to mention better education opportunities for those engaged into the communication process. In other words, students learn faster and in a much more efficient way in a multicultural environment, which communication via computer programs provides a chance for. For example, in every culture, there is a unique way of approaching students based on whether the local culture is based on visual, aural, or verbal approach.
As Samovar, Porter and Stephani explain, the culture of Native Americans is based mostly on visual elements of communication, which means that most Native American students are visual learners. Hispanics are classified as aural learners. Hmong, in their turn, have developed impressive aural skills, since they “do not have written language” (Samovar, Porter & Stephani, 1998, p. 209).
Thus, students will be able to develop not only their major skill, whether aural, visual, or verbal, but also train the rest of the aforementioned skills, which will help them in their further learning process, as well as in conversations with the representatives of other cultures, whose vision of the world is based on the principle other than the one of the person in question. In the realm of computer media, where each of the three types of cognition is introduced, combining them in order to create the ultimate environment for studying is shockingly easy.
According to Samovar, Porter and Stephani, multiculturalism, which social networking promotes actively, will also contribute to the evolution of learning and motivation styles in education.
While the effects of introducing new means to cognize one’s own manner of learning may vary, and “teachers should be aware of what they ‘bring’ to the classroom” (Samovar, Porter & Stephani, 1998, p. 217), in most cases, students adapt easily towards new learning environment and accept the new rules rather eagerly if the latter are offered to them in the right manner. Providing an opportunity to get in touch with the people living in the most remote corners of the earth, modern media definitely help achieve the given goal.
Another crucial element that social networking and other computer media provides to the people of the present-day world, a chance to develop emotional intelligence must not be overlooked, either (Bandura, 2005). One of the pivoting stages of a person’s evolution, the development of emotional intelligence is also boosted greatly by modern media.
According to what Wood says, emotional intelligence is an “ability to recognize feelings, to judge which feelings are appropriate in which situations, and to communicate those feelings effectively” (Wood, 2013, p. 168).
By introducing the principles of multiculturalism into the classroom with the help of social networking and other types of new media, teachers can help students broaden the horizons of their emotional intelligence by learning about the types of responses accepted in other cultures for similar contexts. Promoting multiculturalism, such social networks as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc. contribute to emotional intelligence development greatly.
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As Lustig and Koester explain, enhanced by the “interaction sequences that are repeated over and over again” (Lustig & Koester, 2012, p. 275), or social episodes, emotional intelligence also plays a huge role in personal and professional evolution. It is worth noting, though, that the variations of social episodes for a particular situation had not been in existence up until recently, when an opportunity to engage in computer mediated social interactions emerged.
True, it is unnatural for a particular culture to have several variants of interaction sequences for a certain situation; as a result, an alternative pattern of interactions represented by the people belonging to another culture could easily spark a conflict between those involved. For instance, the notorious women’s rights issue often happens to be a major source of conflict in a communication between the residents of patriarchal and democratic states (Mookherjee, 2008).
With the advent of social networking and the ability to cognize the specifics of other cultures, however, the number of social episodes per situation has grown for a number of people, which means that emotional intelligence rates have been increased unbelievably all over the world. With the help of computer mediated communication, emotional intelligence growth can be boosted impressively.
When communicating via Twitter, Facebook, Skype, or any other type of modern media, people learn quickly that other patterns of reacting to a certain event exist and that, though they do not have to be followed necessarily, they have the right to exist.
Unfortunately, computer mediated communication also leads to a number of negative outcomes, the unwillingness to participate in live communication and, therefore, losing the basic skills of a live conversation being the key one. When it comes to defining the key specific of computer networking, the lack of nonverbal communication elements always takes the first prize as the most notorious one. True, there is Skype, and, with a webcam, it is possible to see the vis-à-vis and their reaction towards what the opponent says.
However, a webcam offers only a part of nonverbal information that an everyday live communication provides in that a webcam can only capture a single frame, while, in an old-fashioned live conversation, people are capable of choosing their own angle to look at their vis-à-vis at. Thus, a huge chunk of data is wasted for nothing in the course of a computer mediated communication.
More to the point, it is questionable whether communication can actually take place without its nonverbal component. Therefore, with all its positive aspects, computer mediated communication still needs improvement, which, in its turn, will be achieved with the invention of new options for social networking.
Even though the lack of nonverbal communication is an obvious flaw of the present-day computer media, it still helps address one of the most notorious issues that exist on par with the rest of the realities of the XXI century. Seeing how some cities and even states suffer from the lack of cultural diversity, a favorable environment for breeding all sorts of national, cultural and ethnic stereotypes is created. Thus, the premises for misunderstandings on interpersonal, intersocietal and intercultural levels emerge.
The multiculturalism environment created in the course of an interpersonal and intercultural computer mediated conversation, in its turn, provides the means to prove these prejudices wrong and turn over a new leaf in intercultural and international relationships.
Thus, it becomes possible for the participants of the communication process to share their unique experience in learning, therefore, creating an entirely new way of knowledge acquisition. With a blend of several approaches based on the features of several different cultures, one is most likely to come up with a highly efficient method of learning. In fact, the given strategy can possibly lead one to shaping the qualities required for lifelong learning.
Although computer mediated interpersonal and intercultural communication has rather negative effects on people’s ability to engage in real life communication, it clearly helps promote cultural diversity among every single person that has an access to modern media and partakes in the process of social networking. It would be wrong to deny the obvious problems that social networking and other types of modern media have; however, their advantages are far too big not to notice the, either.
One of the most important effects of modern media, introduction of cultural and ethnic diversity to a number of people and even communities that lack one clearly allows for not only cultural, but also political, economic, financial and educational progress of a number of states.
By sharing their experience and introducing each other to a whole new world of different traditions and sociocultural norms, people will be able to solve a number of intercultural and international conflicts, as well as enhance cooperation between countries all over the world.
Bandura, E. (2005). Foreign language teachers and intercultural competence: An international investigation. Tonawanda, NY: Multilingual Matters.
Mookherjee, M. (2008). Multiculturalism”. In C. McKinnon (Ed.), Issues in political theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Samovar, L. A., Porter, R. E., & Stephani, L. A. (1998). Cultural influence on context: Educational setting. In L. A. Samovar, R. E. Porter, & L. A. Stephani (Eds.), Communication between cultures (pp. 198–219). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.
Wood, J. (2013). Emotions and communication. In J. Wood, Interpersonal communication everyday encounters (pp. 170–195). Boston, MA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.
Lustig, M. W. & Koester, J. (2012). Episodes, contexts and intercultural interactions. In Intercultural competence: Interpersonal communication across cultures: International edition (pp. 274–311). San Francisco, CA: Peachprint Press.