In the present age of technology, online communication has become incredibly popular and widespread. In some social groups, like business people and youth culture, it has supplanted normal, in person communication. Many people, especially youth, prefer to quickly and briefly communicate online or through text messages. However, the problem with these forms of communication is that they lack authentic, genuine feeling and content. Technology philosophers such as Albert Borgmann and Hubert Dreyfus contend that online forms of communication are devoid of quality, intimacy, commitment, and create deficits in trust and ethics. For these reasons, virtual modes of communication are detrimental to human relationships and should be put in their proper context and used reasonably.
A main issue with online communication is the quality of information that is shared. The majority of information that people express online is more or less banal, certainly not of a profound or intimate nature, which is inherent in worthwhile communication. In this way, people who choose to communicate online usually only share a certain superficial level of information. Early on in the age of technology, Heidegger warned that technology would detract from the human experience of reality. This implies that real, effective communication happens face-to-face as communication is ideally meant to connect people. However, online communication, as well as text messaging and other forms of electronic correspondence, is relegated to surface level expression and disclosure. Therefore, social networking sites, like Twitter and Facebook, keep us “connected” but not exactly better communicated.
Online communication is deteriorating levels of trust and loyalty, leading to ethical dilemmas. For example, many young people text or use Facebook to keep in touch or relay messages. Unfortunately, social media sites like Facebook also encourage spying, gossiping and voyeurism, which can lead people into unethical actions. For example, Borgmann argued that online social environments lack any kind of guiding ethic. Dreyfus explains this missing ethical orientation as the lack of “risk” which underlies all human commitment. Dreyfus asserts that when we engage online, there is no risk because there is no obligation or commitment and this can encourage unethical engagement.
Another related problem with online communication, especially on social media sites, is that the information can be misconstrued leading to misunderstandings and ironically, miscommunication. The limitations of space, privacy and aesthetics encourage that the author transmit increasingly smaller and condensed bits of information. The problem with this less is more communication style is that comments can be taken out of context and cause conflict and even end relationships. For instance, Borgmann argues that online and real life interactions can become confused or unclear. He called this confusion a “virtual fog” and applied to how relationship boundaries and integrity becomes blurred in online communication. This is especially true when considering how online certain individuals can portray themselves as very different than the person they are in real life. This can create all sorts of problems between two people when basing their real life interactions on things that were said or written online, but were said frivolously and whimsically. In contrast, in person, tone, body language and context all aid in accurately interpreting what someone is transmitting, and when misunderstandings occur you can easily clear them up in person.
In conclusion, online communication is easy, quick and convenient, but comes with definite trade-offs. Along with virtual communication is accompanied by a dearth of quality and intimacy, seriously damaging trust and the commitments that promote relationship building. Virtual modes of communication can harm human relationships and should be used moderately, not as primary means of communication. While it seems enticing and seductive to portray ourselves differently than we are in real life, it is detrimental to building healthy relationships, and creates many ethical considerations and limitations.