E-mail, Instant Messaging, and Social Gratification

Posted: March 2, 2010 in Com 546

It is rare these days to find someone who doesn’t use some form of digitally enhanced communication. But why do we prefer the various modes that we do? Well according to a study by Olivine Wai-Yu Lo and Louis Leung, there may be a lot more to our choices than we thought.

 Email versus instant messenger; which is your preferred mode of communication? For some it may depend on the message, whereas for others the choice is driven by the level of interaction that each one facilitates. 

 While some may think of digital communication as a simply another mode to converse, the web provides a lot more than that. The study found that extroverts would tend to utilize more face to face or phone interaction whereas introverts tended to prefer digital communications via instant messaging and email. It was found that loneliness and depression were driving factors for some introverts to adopt digital communications. It provides an outlet to communicate and fulfill their social and psychological needs without the anxiety of having to think on the fly. Sure, instant messaging is considered “real time” but it is definitely not as mentally demanding as a face-to-face conversation. People can type and edit responses as much as they like before they click ‘send,’ whereas with verbal communication they would only get one chance to express their true message.

Youth are also adapting digital forms of communication at rapid rates especially at the college level. This is because the mediums help them to be social with multiple users at one time, building their networks and “friends” within their communities. What I thought was interesting about this study was not so much who adopted the technologies, but what kind of contact those technologies were utilized for. For example, the study found that email was more popular to maintain professional or academic relationships, whereas instant messenger was used more for personal contacts, close friends or community members. This was one area that was not explored in-depth within this study; although I think it is somewhat clear from my own observations why this occurs. 

Recently my boss (owner/CEO of my company) sent me an instant message. I have never talked to the man; he doesn’t even live in this state. Needless to say I was caught off-guard and put in somewhat of a panic. Because I had never met him I was over-analyzing everything I typed in response to his messages. We have not built a rapport that allows us to be able to decipher appropriate tones within our messages. At one point in this extremely awkward conversation he stopped writing to me for about five minutes. I panicked. Did I say something wrong? He later sent me another message which indicated that I did not, however the whole experience caused me great anxiety. The next day he emailed me some information and I was so glad that he had transitioned to that medium. I did not think that the think on the fly mode of instant messaging was appropriate for our first mode of contact. The idea of emailing and being able to answer at my own pace eased my anxiety and I immediately stopped over-analyzing everything I said.

So why do we use various modes of digital communication? Well, according to this study it’s because certain modes facilitate some relationships better than others. In my opinion, digital communications have aided our social lives much more than hindered them. There are arguments that those who are completely integrated into digital communications are missing out on valuable interpersonal communication, but if you go by this study, those people (digitally integrated introverts) aren’t having that type of communication anyway, so what’s the harm in them utilizing the net to express themselves? Internet communication is better than no communication.   

Leung, L. & Wai-Yu Lo, O. (2008). Effects of gratification-opportunities and gratifications-obtained on preferences of instant messaging and e-mail among college students. Telematics and Informatics. Volume 26, Issue 2. P 156-166. Retrieved from ScienceDirect.com: doi:10.1016/j.tele.2008.06.001
  1. Kathy says:

    Danielle – thanks for sharing your experience. I had not thought of the power relationship and how it might come into play in IM.

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