How Has Technology Changed Communication Among Millenials?

Category:  News
Wednesday, March 16th, 2016 at 8:34 PM
How Has Technology Changed Communication Among Millenials? by William Stevens
Cell phones have not only changed communication, but also the way people engage in relationships of any kind.

Over the last 50 years, communication has undergone several significant transformations. In the year 1983, the world was introduced to the first incarnation of the cellular phone. However, it wasn’t until the advent of touch screens and texting that mobile communication truly began to shift.

“I am similar to many people from your generation [millennials],” Dr. Anthony Esposito of the communication studies department said.

“Meaning I use it [cell phone] for talking, texting and employing the Internet for a myriad of reasons, including looking at various new(s) sources throughout my typical day as a college professor.”

Dr. Tim Thompson of the communication studies department uses his cell phone for similar reasons. Like Esposito, he makes calls and sends texts throughout the day, but he also takes photos and videos and checks the miles and steps he walks every day.

Communication has never been a stagnant phenomenon. Every hundred years or so, communication ends up being broken down and then restructured to fit the new generation. The introduction of new technology certainly helps move communication forward. There was the invention of the phone in the 1800s, and the invention of the printing press before that. Now, the cell phone has again revolutionized communication.

“Between computers and email and Internet and phone, it [the cell phone] has changed the way I communicate,” Thompson said. “Especially the time put into… digital communication throughout the day.”

When he first came to Edinboro University in 1990, digital communication was essentially nonexistent.

“E-mail was really new; we didn’t even have it at the university,” he said.

When they did begin using email, it was very minimally.The emails consisted of only white letters on a blue screen, according to Thompson.

“Now when I’m in the office the first thing [I do] is [head] right to the computer.”

Thompson says he doesn’t rely on his cell phone excessively for communication. He doesn’t feel attached to it.

“Although I do find that I’ll text someone now before calling or sometimes instead of calling,” he said.

Texting is not the only thing people use their cell phones for anymore. People have a myriad of applications they can use to interact socially, from Facebook to Whisper, that make staying connected much easier than it was before.

“It’s changed the whole nature of being in the present moment with people,” Thompson said.

Esposito believes it has had a negative impact on face-to-face communication.

“Specifically, most millennials are not adept at face to face communication,” he said, “because it has become less frequent in their interpersonal encounters with others.”

He continued explaining that in regards to other communication, the cell phone has had positive effect in some arenas.

“I do believe it allows young people to stay in contact with friends, especially ones that live in other parts of Pennsylvania, and distinct parts of the United States.”

While it’s certainly changed the way we communicate, an additional, important question is raised in these discussions: does the use or overuse of cell phones affect the way people think?

“I would respond with…a resounding yes,” Esposito said. “Most people can and will say things through text that they may not share in a face to face communication encounter.”

“I believe we begin to see our phones as an extension of us, which is negative, because we may have a more personal connection to the phone than we have to each other.”

According to Aaron Smith of the Pew Research Center, 15 percent of Americans ages 18-29 are heavily dependent on smartphones for online access in 2015.

Yet a similar study was performed by Dr. Ira Hyman, an author for Psychology Today, and it found that “young people” simply use their cell phones differently than adults do.

Hyman goes on to say that use of cell phones may not necessarily be considered an addiction. It is however referred to as a form of social interaction.

Thompson explained that cell phones bring up potential ethical problems, where people have to decide what is and isn’t appropriate to record when they have the ability to record nearly everything with their cell phones constantly in hand.

“Like ‘do I shoot a video of someone who is screaming at me and put that up on a video site,’” he said. “And [people] think nothing of it.”

Thompson’s major concern with the cell phone was the effect on people’s critical thinking ability.

“So far as being able to think through things critically… it might be more difficult because everything is moving so fast. Do I have the capacity to think through the implications of what we are doing?”

Now, Esposito and his wife are both over 50 years old and “seem to have addictions” to their electronic devices.

“I believe addiction is endemic to all, and age doesn’t impact our use of our devices…age is not a factor [in cell phone use],” he said.

“I have read both academic articles and books on the topic of addiction and technology. I believe it is an addiction just like food or drugs.”

The effect on communication, however, is undeniable. Both Thompson and Esposito agreed. 

"It has presented a new opportunity for social interaction,” Thompson said.

The effect of the cell phone and other technology advances makes him think of the movie “Wall-E.”

“It shows these kids in this…technology bubble… Even when they’re riding next to each other, they’re communicating…digitally,” he said. “I see my daughter and her friends sitting around and they’ve got the TV on but they’re at their phone.”

“Is that a negative? Is that something that’s…the breakdown in social interaction or is it a new social interaction? It could be both.”

“There’s various theories about what that has done to communication,” Thompson said. “Especially interpersonal communication [and] the ability to maintain your attention span... I don’t know whether it’s a negative change. Some will argue that attention spans are lower and that interpersonal communication isn’t what it used to be, but I’m not sure about that. Even before digital communication, I’m not even sure if we were great communicators.”

Around the time cell phones became prominent in American society, there were also a myriad of studies performed about the dangers of cellular waves in the air.

“Well I think there’s a number of different issues there,” Thompson said. “One of them could be the effect of cellular waves themselves.”

“I wonder about that because we’ve gone from my youth of no cellular waves to now [where] cellular waves are omnipresent.”

“Is there evidence? It’s not linkable or related yet over the long term to cellular waves. I really don’t know the answer to that. But I’m open to the possibility of it.”

Cell phones not only raise medical concerns, but also several social concerns as well. Younger people have grown up with cell phones and have watched them evolve from their original form.

“They’ve grown up with it,” Thompson said. “Just like you grew up and e-mail and Internet was always a part of your life.”

“Access has always been a part of their life. So they’re natural, they’re natives. And I’m definitely not. I’m an aboriginal when it comes to that.”

“So far as being able to think through things critically…it might be more difficult because everything is moving so fast. Do I have the capacity to think through the implications of what we are doing?”

Instant gratification is defined as the desire to experience pleasure or fulfillment without delay or deferment. And according to Neil Patel, an entrepreneur and online marketing expert, instant gratification is fueled by modern devices and information exchange.

“A lot of our gratification comes from how others seem to perceive us,” Thompson said. “Now, youth more and more are seeking those things through, for instance, the number of likes you get for a photo you post.”

“The whole cycle of self-esteem from us through others is now… amplified so many times through technology.”

Self-esteem is an important social construct nowadays. Another equally important social construct that is closely tied to self-esteem is engaging in relationships with other people.

“I do know that for a while it was ‘are you Facebook official?’” Thompson said. “Now, my daughter talks about ‘oh they’re talking.’ So that’s now the first step in the ‘going steady’ process?”

“It’s texting them directly [or] it’s liking something that they posted.”

Whether we think about it or not, cell phones have had an undeniable impact on communication. It has altered the way we interact with other human beings. It has also affected vocabulary and it has also changed how people engage in relationships.

“I think the jury’s out on whether it’s a positive or negative, so far as the impact. Like all technology, there’s good and bad to it.”

William Stevens is the Campus Life Editor for The Spectator and he can be reached at

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