Purdue News

July 25, 2005

Prof: Students should put away technology to make friends

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The amount of technology today helping college students stay in touch with family and friends back home can be a blessing and a curse, says a Purdue University mass media effects expert.

"Twenty years ago when students left for college, they realized they were leaving home to establish new friends and contacts at college," says Glenn Sparks, professor of communication in the College of Liberal Arts. "Today, some people never really leave home even though they are hundreds of miles away. The first thing many college students do when they arrive on campus is hook up their computers and cable television and use their cell phones to call their friends at home."

Technology, including computers, email and cell phones, gives students a way to keep in touch and "keep their relationships warm," says Sparks, who studies how mass media, such as television, affect people's relationships.

"Technology can be great for staying in touch, but it may also create a trap that can discourage people from becoming interested in the people in their new environment," Sparks says. "Instead of making the effort to meet new people, some students may find it easier to watch their favorite television show or play games on the Internet. Eventually, these students may find themselves alone and isolated, and that could affect their performance in school as well as their overall emotional health."

Sparks also says that when getting to know new people, it's better to meet them for a meal, go for a walk or just sit and talk, instead of watching television and or playing video games together.

"Today, young adults are spending increasing amounts of time relating to others through email or by the phone instead of face-to-face interaction," Sparks says. "Too many Americans suffer from depression and other emotional health issues because they lack close, quality friendships, and our increasing reliance on technology may only make the problem worse."

Sparks is co-author of "Refrigerator Rights," a book that studies how most Americans are lacking quality relationships in their lives.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, (765) 494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Glenn Sparks, (765) 494-3316, gsparks@cla.purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


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