The Digital Divide

Daily Staff Writers
April 28, 2005

E-mailing professors, text messaging friends, chatting on cell phones — these are some of the most common ways students communicate. Instead of contacting each other in person, they’re using electronic communication devices.

Some people think this rampant use of technology has taken over society, replacing personal relationships with virtual ones.

Interpersonal Divide

Out of 116 students polled by The Daily, 28.5 percent said they prefer face-to-face contact. The remaining 71.5 percent said they prefer to use an electronic communication device to contact someone.

“Rapidly, we are believing that someone somewhere else is more important than the person that we are with,” said Michael Bugeja, professor and director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University. “You see this all the time with cell phones.”

Only eight of the 116 students polled by The Daily said they did not own a cell phone.
The extensive use of electronic devices has many people concerned that the value in person-to-person communications is nearly lost, Bugeja said.

In his book, “Interpersonal Divide: The Search for Community in a Technological Age,” Bugeja argues that the overuse of these devices has created an “interpersonal divide” between people.

“There is a growing inability of people to use face-to-face communication to solve problems,” he said. “I believe the more we can value each other face-to-face, the better we can develop a sense of community.”

Virtual Communities

Modern technology has driven civilization away from real communities and replaced them with virtual ones, Bugeja said.

In the survey of 116 students conducted by The Daily, 60 percent of students said they typically contact people through some form of an electronic device.

Because of this impersonal contact, several OU students said electronic communication does not always have a positive impact.

Emily Haynes, criminology sophomore, said she doesn’t like to e-mail because she can’t express her intentions.

“It’s too impersonal for me,” she said.

Mark Taylor, business junior, said the personal relationships he has resulted from face-to-face contact.

Personal relationships are valued more, Taylor said.

People who go the extra mile to make face-to-face contact show they value the relationship, he said. Taylor said this effort has more impact now than it did in the past.

Bugeja said a problem technology has created is the blurring of lines between home and work.

Parents using technology, especially cell phones, do not interact as often with their children when wheeling them in strollers, he said.

“At the moment, I am adopting a 2-year-old and refuse to use a cell phone when I am in public with him,” Bugeja said. “He is always asking questions, and I am introducing him to the community in which he will live. That, unfortunately, is not the norm.”

Most of the impact of technology will be on the attention span and ability to cope with personal problems that require slow and mindful resolutions, Bugeja said.

“In the end, much to people’s surprise, it is my theory that all technology leads to isolation,” he said.

With companies continuously introducing new products, people will soon sit on a park bench watching MTV, Bugeja said.

Faceless Interaction

Not everyone thinks technology has a negative effect. According to The Daily’s student survey, 60 percent of the students polled said they think technology has a positive effect on human behavior.

“Modern technology will not create an interpersonal divide between individuals,” said Erika Kelly, graduate teaching assistant in the OU psychology department. “Internet users are creating their own communities. The Internet allows for more efficient and instant maintenance of these relationships, particularly in keeping long distance ones that are active and satisfying.”

Some students living away from home said technological advancements have helped them deal with long distance relationships.

“It’s easy to keep in touch with family. A lot of times I just don’t carry my phone so I e-mail,” said Natalie Griffin, pre-physical therapy sophomore.

Griffin said she is able to communicate with her family daily. Kelly said people are adapting to the Internet for interaction.

“I like communicating by e-mail because it is fast and you can just do it when you need to,” said Emily Day, University College freshman.

There seems to be a push in technology for simulations of face-to-face interactions, particularly with webcams, streaming sound and video phones, Kelly said. If this trend continues, it could bridge the gap between face-to-face and technological communication, giving future generations the best of both worlds, she said.

“The great thing, whether at home, school or work, there is a possibility for cross-culture interaction like never before allowing for a broader personal perspective,” Kelly said.
She said people are going to have to adapt to technology, particularly a world mediated by the Internet.

Communication on Campus

On the OU campus, several forms of electronic communication are available.

“A common concern about the use of modern technology is the loss of interaction due to the separation of teacher to student,” said Bob Rost, communications associate at Oregon State University.

As a result, quality of the learning transaction suffers, Rost said.
“As educator[s], [we] feel that in isolating the teacher from the learners, the passion is lost. It’s not the same,” said Edwin Hiel and David Herrington of Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas.

In the student survey conducted by The Daily, 60 percent of students polled said they would rather contact their professors by e-mail than in person. However, some students on campus disagree.

“Professors don’t know you in person. They just know your e-mail name,” said Jacob Wendte, University College freshman.

Technology makes people lazy, said Michael Berberich, management information systems sophomore.

“It’s easy to e-mail your professor, but you get a lot more out of your time if you go talk to them,” Berberich said.

He said students would benefit if they went to their professors’ offices hours and spoke to them in person.

“I think students should come in [to the professor’s office] because I think you get much more out of it,” said James Cane-Carrasco, international and area studies assistant professor. “The student will rarely only have one question.”

Campus Community

With the constant reminders of technological advancements around campus, some students said they notice an impact on the campus environment.

“If you have your iPod in your ears and keep your head down, not talking to anyone, you are taking away the sense of community on the OU campus,” Berberich said.

According to The Daily’s survey, 39 percent of students interviewed said they either talk on a cell phone or listen to music while walking to class.

Clay Millsap, educational psychology graduate teaching assistant, said he’s seen a shift in technology over the years.

“I’ve seen a fundamental shift in what technology is doing to the current generation,” Millsap said. “I go into classrooms converted for technology, show a presentation, and I can’t write on the chalkboard because the screen is in the way.”

Still, Millsap said he needs technology to accomplish his goals.

“Without the technology I have, I couldn’t hope to accomplish what I’ve accomplished to this point,” Millsap said. “Technology allows me to understand things at a much different conceptual level.”