Cell Phones and Instant Messaging – The Destruction or The Extension of Community Life?

Jennifer Daryl Slack, and J. Macgregor Wise, the authors of our course reader Culture + Technology A Primer, describes a scenario in a post secondary school of a busy courtyard. This courtyard was a “cultural space” where students gathered in groups to talk about their lives and classes, and to grab a bite to eat. This gathering of individuals meeting or passing through was a community developed within the courtyard of the school itself. However with the growing popularity of the cell phone, students no longer spoke to each other but instead to their cell phones; communicating with people away from and outside the courtyard. To Slack and Wise, this change in communication, changed the atmosphere from a community to more of a “gathering of individuals”.
Does this mean that the cell phone will bring an end to community as we know it? As time passes and the availability and popularity of cell phones and other instant messaging increases, people interact with other people in their immediate surroundings less and less. Instead they tend exist in a virtual form of themselves via text messages, msn and Facebook. Some could say that this trend is causing people to become more isolated from each other. Instead of spending time with people face to face, people shut themselves off in rooms with their computers and spend time communicating to people via their computers or cell phones.
However, some people argue that this anonymousness and impersonal communication is a good thing. Sometimes individuals don’t necessarily want to communicate with other people face to face; with virtual communication one does not have to worry about what they look like or how they are dressed. Instead they can be comfortably dressed in their pajamas, warm in bed, e-mailing their bosses on why they can’t come to work that day. This kind of communication also allows people to choose who they wish to communicate with and when. As opposed to being forced to speak to whomever approaches them, programs like instant messaging allows people to easily block those whom they do not wish to speak to, yet have their contact information handy in case they need their help in the future.
On the other hand, it could also be argued that things like instant messaging and cell phones builds up an even larger community of people than is possible just communicating with people face to face. One could easily meet new people with similar interests though the web, or get in contact with friends you haven’t seen since high school, which without these communication medias, would otherwise be unreachable. These types of media also transcends space allowing individuals to get in contact and communicate with people thousands of miles away as if they were right there in the room.
So do these new media of cell phones and instant messaging threaten to destroy our community life? My answer is no. I don’t believe the use of these technologies decrease community life in any way, but instead change the definition and our understanding of communities. Instead of communities consisting of communication face to face, these medias allow for the communication across space and to a larger and more diverse population of people. So instant message and phone to your hearts content, knowing that by doing so, you are only building up your own community life.

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