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However, this literature has focused on the process of meeting and getting to know others digitally.In contrast, adolescents and young adults use digital tools mainly to communicate with existing connections, whether friends, family, or acquaintances (Gross, 2004; Reich, Subrahmanyam, & Espinoza, 2012; Subrahmanyam, Reich, Waechter, & Espinoza, 2008; Valkenburg & Peter, 2007).Compared with other participants, those who spoke on the phone more frequently with their participating friend reported greater bonding during audio chat.Use of textual affiliation cues like emoticons, typed laughter, and excessive letter capitalization during IM related to increased bonding experience during IM.One way to address potential differences in digital and in-person communication is to compare them directly.In developmental psychology, the existing literature on social media use, while increasingly sophisticated, has nonetheless relied primarily on survey-based approaches.By the late 1970’s, experimental work examining information exchange through teleconferencing and closed-circuit television was advanced enough to warrant a review in Psychological Bulletin (Williams, 1977).In the years since, CMC researchers have compared audiovisual, auditory, and text-based communication to in-person communication on a wide variety of variables, including efficiency of communication, cognitive task performance, intimacy of disclosure, and trust (Antheunis, Schouten, Valkenburg, & Peter, 2012; Bargh, Mc Kenna, & Fitzsimons, 2002; Burgoon et al., 2002; Ray & Floyd, 2006; Tidwell & Walther, 2002; Walther, Loh, & Granka, 2005).
However, it has been primarily concerned with the establishment of new relationships, rather than communication between existing friends. Drawing on the experimental traditions of CMC research, the present study aimed to directly compare digital and in-person communication between pairs of close, emerging-adult friends to ascertain potential differences in ability to foster bonding.
While research has established that digital communication can enhance existing friendships over the long-term (e.g., Valkenburg & Peter, 2007, 2009), a continuing concern among some is that youth are less “connected” than they were in the past or that increasing digital communication contributes to stunted socioemotional or empathic growth (Small & Vorgan, 2008; Turkle, 2012).
This question is provocative, but difficult to test empirically.
Social information processing theory (Walther, 1992), suggests a more complex story: when using a medium with limited availability of visual cues or other channels of communication, interlocutors adapt their behaviors in order to connect more effectively using that particular medium.
While bonding may take longer, Walther argues, it can ultimately reach levels present in face-to-face communication.Emerging adults are among the most avid users of digital communication technologies, including texting, instant messaging (IM), and video chat (Duggan & Brenner, 2013; Lenhart et al., 2011).