By Guest Author Elizabeth Worlein
As a busy woman, a girlfriend in a long-distance relationship, and friend that is hard to reach by phone, I have wondered how my use of technology impacts my relationships. What does my use of e-mail say about my relationships with my friends, my romantic partner, and my family?
Johnson, Haigh, Becker, Craig, and Wigley attempt to answer this question in a recent study. Two hundred and twenty-six college students submitted their personal e-mail messages that they received in one week. The researchers examined how the e-mails maintained the students’ relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners. The researchers also examined how relationships were maintained between people that were geographically close, and those that were long-distance. Researchers observed five main behaviors people exhibited to maintain their relationships in the three types of relationships:
- Openness (sharing your experience, feelings, etc.)
- Social Networks (references to events, school, or other relationships)
- Positivity (e.g. “Have a great day!”)
- Assurances (e.g. “I love you.”)
- Joint Activities (e.g. “See you Monday!”)
- Social Networks
- Joint Activities
- Miscellaneous (Sign-offs, emoticons, etc.)
- Social Networks
- Referring to cards, letters, or calls
This study illustrates that through the use of e-mail, we can continue to maintain our relationships when we are not face-to-face. What we communicate over e-mail, such as assurances or positivity, is similar to what we use to maintain our relationships when we are face-to-face with the person. The results indicate that our interactions over e-mail are not very different if we are near to or far away from the person.
What does this study’s finding say about our relationships? Perhaps what we are communicating illustrates what we value in that relationship. For example, we may maintain friendships and family relationships to talk about our everyday experiences. For our romantic partners, we seek to communicate the importance of our relationship through assurances and openness. From all of these relationships, we are seeking positivity and openness, among many other values. Nothing radical happening on e-mail compared to any other venue–just another venue upon which to share the human condition.
Johnson, A., Haigh, M., Becker, J., Craig, E., & Wigley, S. (2008). College Students’ Use of Relational Management Strategies in Email in Long-Distance and Geographically Close Relationships. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13, 381-404.