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Technology can harm, aid socialization through dependency for communication

Freshman Natasha Roth cannot go long without checking her iPhone.

It’s her alarm clock in the morning, her way of talking to friends before class, her source of music at the Rec and her news provider at night through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

“It’s just a habit,” Roth said, who checked her phone during an interview with The BG News. “I’ll pull my phone out while talking and my dad’s like ‘You’re always on your phone.’”

Though she considers herself a social person, Roth said her phone use may keep her from socializing more in college, especially in her classes.

“If I don’t know anyone, I’ll just sit on my phone and check Twitter or text friends,” she said. “It’s people’s escape now; like they don’t have to meet new people, they just do it through [their phones].”

If people used their phones less, Roth said there would be a lot more socializing.

However, this seemingly antisocial behavior isn’t something the Millennial generation picked up on its own. People have been absorbed in technology since the 1950’s.

Alberto Gonzalez, a professor in the department of communication, remembers when he got his first transistor radio as a kid and he and his brother would stay up to listen to Detroit Tigers games.

“We have a fascination with technology and the ability to connect to different parts of the world,” said Gonzalez, chair of the Department of Communication at the University. “It’s wired into us socially.”

The mobility of the transistor radio evolved into the Walkman, to the CD player, to the smartphones available today.

Gonzalez describes his family as “heavy users” of social media “and our Verizon bill reflects that every month. We go though as much data as a small business; we love it.”

His family’s and others’ use of social media is based on the same values of his old transistors radio, Gonzalez said.

“It’s having access to people,” he said. “Now we can talk to friends whenever we want.”

However, when Roth’s phone broke a few months ago, she felt temporarily disconnected.

“It was really weird because when I’m not doing anything I check Twitter, but I didn’t have anything to do so I was bored,” Roth said. “It was really annoying, but most of my friends live on my floor.”

Though Roth said her smartphone use threatens socialization because “we’re so dependent on it,” Gonzalez said the two could complement each other.

“I think we’re always going to value interpersonal communication for its satisfaction,” he said. “It may be that social media can help us expand that satisfaction.”

Social media’s simplicity has also led to its popularity, said Lara Lengel, communication professor at the University who specializes in technology.

“It’s a lot more easy and fun to engage in online communication than it was 10 years ago,” Lengel said.

However, Lengel said the line between interpersonal communication and online communication is becoming blurred.

“People aren’t thinking about the ramifications of their behavior [online],” Lengel said, noting racist and sexist comments made on social media sites.

People assume that those 140 characters “just go away, but they stay in existence and can be incredibly harmful to others,” Lengel said.

Finding a balance of when to use social media, can help people discipline themselves, Gonzalez said

Roth’s advice is to “just put it down every once in a while.”

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