The ESRC have asked us to systematically review what’s being written and what’s being said on how our relationships are being shaped and sustained by digital technology in and between various domains, including family and work.

An initial survey of experts highlighted the similarities and cross-overs with other domains in the scoping review because much that deals with communication and relationships also touches on communities, identities, citizenship and politics amongst other things.

Some of the more specific issues being raised include how the digital interacts with:

  • People at particular stages in the life course, e.g. children, adolescents, students, adults and seniors.
  • Social relations, e.g. friendship, dating and romance, marriage and family
  • Social conventions around self-disclosure and support
  • Hate speech and crime online, including online bullying
  • Communication and intercultural and intergroup dynamics
  • Communicating in contexts of diaspora and immigration
  • Gender and parental control, social networks, etc.

Should we be thinking of communication and relationships in terms of interaction and behaviour across interpersonal sectors? And, in turn, the question of the foundation of the digital age beliefs for open, free and networked communication and if this is having an effect on the other ways we communicate with each other?

A whole new axis in communication has been brought about by the development and use of social media. Although relatively new, there is already a large body of literature about it. However, experts pointed to various areas that were less well researched such as:

  • Gaming as an activity and a set of relationships
  • Social media and its use in the workplace; the blurring of professional boundaries
  • Workplace interactions and behaviours
  • The collapse of context
  • Do we communicate differently because of social media?

Although experts acknowledge the benefits and potential of social media, they also reiterate that some of the concerns are not well evidenced. These include a range of behaviours that could be normatively described as negative, for example sexting, cyber bullying, online grooming, internet safety and trolling.

An overall question that emerges is one that returns to the issues surrounding the characteristics of the intersection between digital media and daily life. This question leads to another one, which is whether this intersection influences and changes our relationships over time – thus raising questions of personal agency to manage digital media communication and to shape it through ways of using it.  Further, what do these changes mean in normative terms about the quality of our communication and relationships?