It is likely that no single technology has had a greater impact on communication than the Internet. In only decades, this is a process and product that has expanded human interaction in ways never before possible. The Internet allows people to directly communicate with one another from virtually any location and at any time. Then, the technology creates huge platforms for social interaction, bringing together people who do not know one another in the traditional, literal sense. Both of these immense factors are having a widespread effect. Internet technology, in enabling unlimited access of communication and in promoting virtual relationships, is actually changing how human social behavior occurs.
It is Internet technology that enables cell phone communication, basically. More exactly, the early communication technology is today occurring through Internet applications, and the result is that people are communicating everywhere, and from great distances. As the arenas of communication are changed, so too are the behaviors associated with it. There is, for example, no escaping the reality that Internet technology has blurred the distinctions between public and private spaces. This then translates to behaviors once practiced as private being conducted openly, and in the presence of others. With hand-held devices, and aside from social elements, there has been a noted disregard for what is traditional public courtesy. Theaters and museums today repeatedly request that all people present turn off their devices (Staples 334), and what this indicates is a specific change in social behavior. The requests are made because the traditional respect for the public space is disregarded or lessened, at least to a degree requiring attention.
Connected to this is how social bearing changes. It is commonly experienced today that people will engage in private conversations on trains, planes, buses, in restaurants, or in any environment in which they are physically near to strangers. That this occurs at such a high level indicates that the ability to do this has generated entitlement in users. It is likely, for example, that the private conversation over the cell phone is not one that the user wishes to be overheard; consequently, the engaging of it points to a sense in the user that the others must respect, or create, their privacy. As many people experience, this in turn generates other changes in social behavior. Those near to the cell phone user more overtly “tune out” the person and the activity, at least partially from a sense of courtesy. Others may react by resenting what seems to be an intrusion, and present body language and attitude that is antagonistic. The cell allows for the private to be conducted in the public sphere, and people react in ways reflecting either entitlement or various types of responses. These processes, although new, may be encountered in virtually all public arenas, so this is a technology that changes actual social behavior.
There is as well the issue of how social behavior as conducted through the Internet changes behavior, and this has already been extensively discussed and analyzed. As is well known, the Internet introduced means of connecting to other people never before known, just as entire populations eagerly delved into these new opportunities for interaction.
Suddenly, a single individual could “meet” and interact with an unlimited number of persons, and to whatever degree of intimacy they liked. This then greatly influences an enormous element within social behavior: how the individual perceives and presents themselves. In no uncertain terms, the Internet allows for a presenting of a self that may take any form, from outright deception to the more ordinary one of modifying traits and appearances to be more appealing. This is an ability never before known to humanity, and one that must go to how people identify themselves to others. Then, aside from the social considerations of this effect, there is another aspect of entitlement present. Simply, since Internet communication in social arenas is controlled by the user, the user is empowered to exercise authority over it. If, for example, an online chat is not going well, there is no need to turn to social behaviors of the past that address the problem; instead, the unhappy user may just “disappear.” It seems likely that this single ability to control the exchange must translate to social behavior that is more assertive or confident, at least within the realm of the Internet.
Another obvious effect of the Internet’s influence on social behavior may be seen in any coffee shop or Internet cafe. In these spaces, there is a degree of social choice never before available. Traditionally, customers could either maintain privacy and keep to themselves, or seek to socially interact with other customers. Today, the Internet creates further options, and customers are empowered to make choices within parallel spaces (Consalvo, Allen, & Jones 139). They may “shield themselves” behind the laptop and use the Internet as a means of making a statement declaring privacy; they may interact through it; or they may engage socially with other customers because of the shared activity. More exactly, using the same technology creates a point of identification, and the Internet then acts as a means of promoting real social interaction. Ironically, studies have found that, when the Internet first becomes a fixture in a home, the relationships within that home change. Family members, turning to virtual interactions, have lessened contact with one another (Breckler, Olson, & Wiggins 583). As with the other instances noted, then, using the Internet promotes a wide variety of behavioral changes.
Given the novelty of Internet technology, as well as its universal usage, it is impossible to estimate just how dramatically it will alter human social behavior. The evidence thus far, however, is telling. People are adapting in various ways to the freedom to conduct personal conversations in private spaces; social expectations of courtesy have changed because of hand-held devices seen as intrusive; and interaction within Internet platforms is allowing for many variations on self-perception, which must affect how social relations occur. The reality is that Internet technology, in providing unlimited access of communication and in promoting virtual relationships, is actually changing how human social behavior occurs.
- Breckler, S. J., Olson, J. M., & Wiggins, E. C. Social Psychology Alive. Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2006. Print.
- Cansalvo, M., Allen, M., & Jones, S. Internet Research Annual: Selected Papers from the Association of Internet Researchers Conference. New York: Peter Lang, 2003. Print. Staples, W. G. Encyclopedia of Privacy, Vol. I. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Company,