Communication and Technology

Kristen Perry and Samantha Palmer, University of Florida 

              The world we live in is becoming unquestionably technology dominated.  Between 1991 and 2001 the number of Americans subscribing to cell phone service increased from 7.6 million to 120 million, and the numbers have been increasing dramatically ever since. Cell phones, text messaging, instant messaging programs, and Facebook are all relatively new forms of technology that are revolutionizing how people communicate with one another in todays society. We hypothesize that as peoples use of technology increases they become more and more capable of dividing their attention and maintaining multiple conversations simultaneously.

              In order to determine what possible effects technology might have on peoples abilities to communicate it is necessary to look at cognitive psychologys explanations of how attention functions. General attention theory posits that there are three stages to information processing; perception, decision making and response selection, and response programming and execution. Information processing theories often assume that each stage occurs sequentially and that the termination of one stage triggers the beginning of the next stage. Research on multiple task performance, however, suggests that when a person is forced to divide their attention between multiple sources of information these tasks combine. This process is called time sharing and requires that the stages of processing information and task execution overlap one another.               We are particularly interested in seeing how this phenomenon applies to carrying on multiple conversations with one addressee in multiple forums (ie on the phone and online), multiple conversations with one addressee in one forum (ie in an online chat scenario), and multiple conversations with multiple addressees in different forums (ie talking to one person on the phone and talking to another person online). We are also interested in seeing how peoples ability to maintain multiple conversations varies between spoken and written communication and the limits of maintaining multiple conversations when spoken and written communications overlap. We intend to look at where in conversation splits and multiplicity occur to determine if maintaining multiple conversations affects overall conversation structure. Based on our findings, we will attempt to determine if maintaining multiple conversations affects short term memory and language processing.

              In order to assess how technology is affecting communication in todays society we are conducting several experiments that deal with the issue of multiple conversations. We are presenting members of different age groups (between the ages of 13 and 35 to avoid the affects of age on memory) with questionnaires regarding their use of technology and instances of multiple conversations. Our second method of research is to create and monitor online chat conversations on a controlled Local Area Network (LAN) and determine participants frequency of multiple conversation use and the effect of multiple conversations on response time. This study will also help us analyze the affect of multiple conversations on conversation structure. Lastly, we will be setting up situations where participants must maintain multiple conversations (ie one researcher will speak to a participant and the other will engage them in a separate conversation through a different forum) and monitor speaker response time to assess their ability to hold multiple conversations with ease. Based on our findings from these studies we will determine what effect technology has on language and communication in todays society.


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