Instant links alter world in every way

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I commented in The Courier Mail about the general interactional effects of communication technologies on society.

Schefe, Y. (2011, July 23-24). Instant links alter world in every way. The Courier Mail, Headstart pp. 63-64.


Dr Sean Rintel, a lecturer in communication technology at the University of Queensland who specialises in computer-mediated communication, says the key difference between the pre and post-internet eras is the plethora of ways we have to communicate now, as opposed to the limited options we had decades ago.

But he says we aren’t quite up to speed with how to use the different platforms and we need to learn correct online etiquette to ensure the new communication is positive.

“Certainly we’ve got more ways of interacting,” he says.

“What we’re not good at yet is how to deal with this avalanche of stuff.”

Rintel says the internet age has allowed people to send countless versions of themselves into cyberspace to socialise and make friends — whether it’s on social media sites such as Facebook or online dating agencies — but he warns there is a downside and people need to be aware of the permanence of what they say online.

“There are plenty of people doing pretty foolish things with social media,” he says. “When you put up a picture of an ex because you don’t like them anymore and your ex is maybe doing something they shouldn’t be… then some invisible audience can get hold of that and they can be a voyeur.”

But it’s not just the communication platforms that have changed.

The words we use and the way we use them have evolved.

Professor of applied languages at the University of Queensland, Roly Sussex, says the English language has fostered many changes, from the way we address one another to the shortening of words.

“In letters we used to say ‘Dear Mr’ or ‘Dear Sir’ and end up with ‘Yours sincerely’ or ‘Yours faithfully’,” Sussex says.

“In Twitter, it’s 140 characters.

“This is prompting people to be briefer but also to miss out things, so they get rid of punctuation and because of a need for speed they leave out multiple key presses.”

But he says the addition of acronyms like LOL (laugh out loud) and OMG (oh my god) won’t destroy traditional language.

“I think the new texting language isn’t a bad thing,” he says.

“It’s a sign that English is very well able to reinvent itself and that’s pretty important.”

Rintel agrees.

“I think we need to embrace the face that language always changes,” Rintel sys.

“There’s not such thing as a static, rigid language.”

No going back

Rintel says there is no way that the world will turnits back on the increasing integration of the Internet into daily life.

“Socrates was 2500 years ago decrying the usage of the written word,” he says.

“Did we get rid of the written word?


“There won’t be the ability to opt out unless you choose to opt out of society.”

But he says that while much has changed in our lives since the Internet arrived, some things will always stay the same.

“Unless our consciousness is uploaded into computer chips, we’re still physical bodies, bags of muscle and bone and organ,” he says.

“The physicality of being with another person is the ultimate expression of love and friendship.

“People will always want to do that.”

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