Digital friendship

Tara Pringle

Keeping in touch via facebook, AIM, e-mail

Credit: Andrew popik

Matthew Smith used AOL Instant Messenger in high school to communicate with his friends.

Now, because he and his friends attend different universities, the freshman history major said he uses AIM a lot more, primarily because it’s instant communication.

“Most of my friends are always on,” Smith said. “It’s quicker, and it’s cheaper.”

Like Smith, many college students use electronic means to communicate with their friends. Whether it’s by text messaging, instant messaging or e-mail, students are finding ways to communicate non-verbally.

According to data from the Pew Internet Project, college students are twice as likely to use instant messenger on any given day as the average Internet user. The project also reported that 75 percent of college students check their e-mail at least once a day.

Robyn Parker, communication studies professor, said e-mail is a popular form of communication with college students.

“It’s easier to introduce themselves over e-mail,” Parker said. “It’s less intrusive than showing up or placing a phone call. You don’t feel like you’re bothering that person.”

Parker said electronic communication has enabled students to start new friendships and keep old friendships alive.

“We can maintain friendships that otherwise would fail because of proximity,” Parker said. “E-mail has expanded our network.”

However, Parker said, e-mail has limits.

“You can’t hear my tone of voice,” she said. “You can’t see my facial expression.”

Students also use e-mail to communicate with professors.

“I hear from so many students now through e-mail,” Parker said. “We can send an e-mail and feel less vulnerable if we don’t hear back from that person.”

Parker said many people may have communication apprehension, which means they have physical symptoms, such as stomach aches, associated with communicating with other people.

“These people have less physiological apprehension when they use electronic means,” she said.

Bruce Riddle, communication studies professor, said electronic communication can be limited.

“You can’t get a hug over the Internet,” Riddle said. “That tactile contact from our loved ones is really important.

“Do people have more friends (because of technology)? I’d say so, but I can’t say for sure. A lot of people get acquainted with more people than in the past because of services like facebook.”, an online directory of college students across the country, has almost 10,000 registered Kent State users, said Chris Hughes, spokesman for the Web site, and the number is growing daily.

Riddle said he prefers old-fashioned letters.

“Letters are personal,” he said. “Telephone calls — you can’t keep it. E-mail can be kind of cold. Letter writing is a dying art. It takes a little longer, but what are friends worth?”

Amber Grantham, freshman nursing major, said she checks her account about twice a week.

“I can keep track of all the chapters across the country,” she said. “It’s a useful tool.”

She also uses AIM daily.

“I wouldn’t keep track of half my friends from high school if it weren’t for AIM,” she said.

But Grantham said she doesn’t rely on AIM only to communicate with her friends.

“You need to get out and actually socialize,” she said.

Contact enterprise reporter Tara Pringle at [email protected].