This is the fourth in a series about how technology affects child growth and skill development.

Q: What are aspects of technology that differ from face-to-face communication?

A: The eHow website in an article titled “How Docs Technology Impact Communication” defines characteristics that make technological communication unique. Technology has accelerated the speed at which people communicate worldwide. Email, texting, instant messaging, cellphones, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter allow connections to be made at breakneck speed. The news often reports on crimes, accidents and terrorism events as they happen. The first phenomenal event watched, as it unfolded, was the attack on the World Trade Center.

Responding with immediacy can lead to problems if people impulsively answer communications before thinking things through. On the other hand, when people travel, cellphones can save lives when alerting authorities to accidents or car problems.

Another characteristic of technology media is accessibility. Messages can be sent anywhere, anytime. Now, cellphones can have website, Internet and email access, as well as take photos. In business, colleagues can maintain contacts and communication whether they are at the office, traveling in or out of the country, or working at home.

A third trait of electronic communication is efficiency. Business contacts can send short and to-the-point emails without getting involved in long phone calls. However, the downside of technology is the lack of nonverbal communication, except for Skyping and video conferencing. Many times the nonverbal expressions are more telling about what people mean than the verbal communication received in technological media.

Another aspect of technology is the ease it provides families to stay in touch with photo texts, video telephone calls and Skype. Such technology provides people worldwide and instant access to family members. If technology is the only mode of communication, there can be traditional family members not comfortable with just technological connections.

A final characteristic is the timeliness of news broadcasts. Besides the instant news coverage as events unfold, there is also the opportunity for anyone who is motivated to have a voice with blogs and websites. These sources also can be updated right away in response to news events. Now all people can have access to worldwide coverage to make their opinions known.

In an article from “Social Work Today” by Maura Keller, titled “Social Media and Interpersonal Communications,” she writes about three more key concepts regarding the role of social media in common communication. When people communicate on social media, there is a tendency to trust people who are recipients. That trust causes media users to be more open online than in person. Social media connections are not strengthened through exchanges as much as face-to-face relationship communication. Therefore, Internet connections tend to maintain the status quo.

The third characteristic of meditated communication is that users tend to seek out others who think like they do. An exception to that aspect is cyberbullying in which bullies choose victims and pursue them relentlessly online. Cyberbullying is much the same dynamics as face-to-face bullying, except it is much more constant and intense and therefore more harmful and destructive.

Another trait of online social media is information overload. Preliminary research suggests some teenagers are pulling away from Facebook and such sites because of the emotional overload.

Many media users spend more time on social media than in face-to-face interactions. This tendency does not exist just with children and teens but with parents as well. Adults can now work at home and often are just as preoccupied with their own technology as the children.

Another characteristic of media use is the lack of privacy. Media users tend to reveal online personal information previously shared face-to-face. Many people do not think about the accessibility of their personal information online, until someone violates their privacy and shares unfavorable information to a wide user network.

Some features of the computer are considered helpful by some and not by others in teaching writing skills to students. In a 2007 survey on Teaching Writing, a national public opinion poll was conducted for the National Writing Project.

The majority of survey respondents (74 percent) believed proficiency in computer skills should be a high-school requirement, rating its importance just below reading and writing. The public agrees learning to use technology for writing skills is essential.

However, some opinions were divided about whether or not spell-check is helpful or harmful in learning to spell. Approximately 51 percent said harmful and 43 percent said helpful. Regarding instant messaging, 60 percent of the public felt it is harmful and interferes with youth developing better communication skills.

• Next week’s discussion will begin the topic of the positive effects of technology on child growth and skill development.

Judy Caprez is professor emeritus at Fort Hays State University.