How has technology improved human relationships

How does digital communication influence our social behavior?

New technologies can have a lasting effect on the way we live - this is also evident in mobile communications. The diverse communication options offered by smartphones & Co. also have an impact on our social behavior. This is especially true for younger users. Experts do not see the fear that this will lead to impoverishment of social contacts confirmed.

The ability to be available almost anytime and anywhere has changed the way we deal with one another. At work and in private, mobile technologies make our communication more direct and immediate and make it easier for us to stay in touch with people. The Mannheim communication and media scientist Prof. Dr. Angela Keppler examined in a study. According to this, communication nowadays often takes place on several levels at the same time: "People still talk to each other, but it goes without saying that they also look at their smartphones from time to time," says the researcher.

The influence of digital means of communication on everyday behavior is particularly evident in children and adolescents who are growing up with smartphones today. Mobile devices have changed the way activities are coordinated, says Prof. Dr. Johannes Fromme, expert in educational media research and media education at Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg. Instead of longer-term agreements, young people today tend to meet spontaneously, but also more non-bindingly: meeting points are changed at short notice or appointments are canceled at the last minute. With regard to social relationships, Fromme sees the cell phone as the “control center of the social network” among young people. The mobile phone primarily serves to maintain and strengthen existing contacts. On the other hand, short message services offer a good opportunity, especially for new acquaintances, to initially continue the contact without obligation. Not only the use of messaging services contributes to establishing and strengthening social contacts: according to a recent study by the University of Mannheim, activities such as looking at photos and videos on the mobile phone or listening to music together on the smartphone are also encouraging the bond and exchange among children and young people.

Maintaining contacts via smartphone

In its U25 study “Children, adolescents and young adults in the digital world” and in the U9 study “Children in the digital world”, the German Institute for Trust and Security on the Internet (DIVSI) examined the behavior of young and youngest users in the Examined with regard to digital media. The evaluations show that children and young people use mobile technologies intensively to maintain and develop social contacts. As soon as they start school, online communities such as Facebook and messaging services such as WhatsApp become important channels for communicating with friends. The current KIM and JIM studies by the Media Education Research Association Southwest, which examine media use by children (6-13 years old) and young people (12-19 years old), also come to similar results. As the DIVSI U25 study points out, the term “friend” is viewed in a more differentiated manner today than it used to be. The young users consciously differentiate between Facebook friends, personal acquaintances and close friends. For example, the number of online friends does not have a major impact on the circle of close friends.

Digital media also play an important role in moving away from the parental home, as they offer spaces into which parents can only partially see. The educationalist Fromme explains that smartphones and cell phones help young people to develop and maintain their own relationships outside of the family environment.

Online communication is a supplement, not a substitute

The fear that is sometimes expressed that digital media would have negative effects on the social behavior of young people is not confirmed by the DIVSI-U25 study - on the contrary: In their evaluation, the researchers come to the conclusion that the combination of different communication media promotes social integration in the Family and friends can be promoted. Together with “offline communication” with family members and friends, the authors believe that digital media make a significant contribution to the identification and self-image of children, adolescents and young adults. Fromme also comes to the conclusion that “face-to-face communication” with friends and acquaintances cannot be replaced by digital forms of communication, but can be continued, supplemented and in some cases even deepened. A current study by the University of Mainz (as of March 2015) on the effects of intensive internet consumption on young people confirms, on the one hand, that digital social networks are conducive to bonding with people of the same age. On the other hand, the study warns of the danger of their excessive or addictive use.