New forms of communication that have evolved due to the coronavirus pandemic

The spread of the coronavirus has forced us to avoid the Three Cs (closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings), and our lives have become characterized by so-called nesting.

As a result, the way we communicate has changed significantly. Face-to-face conversations have declined, and in their place people are now communicating online more often.

However, this is not a change that was newly created by the coronavirus pandemic, but rather, it can be said that the utilization of tools connected to the Internet has made great progress under the given circumstances. This is especially true in Japan, which has fallen a little behind in the utilization of such tools.

To put it more succinctly, society was moving toward the wider adoption of such new tools in the first place, and the pandemic has played a catalyst role for its widespread use.

For example, in the past it was sometimes very rude to meet someone and talk with them while wearing a mask. Cleaning and wiping anything that has been touched by someone else might have incited an angry response before.

However, amid the pandemic these acts are rather giving people a sense of security.

It is questionable whether these acts will continue once the pandemic has ended. Many people are anticipating a return to a world where conversations could be held without wearing a mask, and where full facial expressions could be seen.

On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine that how we live now with computers and the Internet will return to how it was before the coronavirus existed.

Of course, in college, for example, students may go back from online lessons to face-to-face lessons. But, I do not think that telework will be going away. This is because many people have realized that these tools can provide various benefits.

In fact, it seems that the digital native generation, who has grown up with and fully utilizes digital devices, has a different lifestyle from previous generations.

In this context, we are carrying out research with a focus on understanding changes in how we communicate and its basic nature.

Communication is means to find your place in the world

What does communication mean in the first place? Of course, it is basically to convey information. However, I do not think it ends once information has been conveyed.

For example, when we are making business calls or telling a taxi driver to turn left or right, can we really say this is communication?

What happens if we say “Please turn right” in a kind way? What happens if we say the same thing in a hasty way? In both cases, in addition to conveying information to turn right, something else may be conveyed to the driver. We might call this the communication of feelings.

The reason why people do not always speak in a constant tone, or use the same facial expression, is because they want to convey not only information but also their underlying feelings.

Furthermore, that is because people want to influence and change the feelings of others by conveying their own feelings. I believe this is communication between people.

So why do people need that kind of communication? I think that we can say this is because people have a social nature.

People are not living according to the laws of nature only. Rather, people who were very vulnerable in the wild increased their safety and security by living together with others.

This contributed to human prosperity, and groups became communities, and grew bigger and bigger. Then, within the community, people try to find their place where they fit in so that they can live without unnecessary concerns.

To do this, a relationship of trust has to be built with other people in the community, and this is achieved by communicating feelings. Trust is born among people who can communicate their feelings well, and being with such people allows one to find their place.

Communication is the means to achieving this goal. Therefore, communication is comprised of a variety of means, not only words and letters, but also facial expressions, attitudes, movements, tone of voice, writing style, etc.

For example, wearing bright pink clothes is also a means of communication. If you feel that you have had fun or want to have fun, you will be able to make friends who can share a good time and atmosphere when such a feeling is mutually communicated.

The basic nature of communication never changes

In recent years, various digital devices are being used for information transmission. However, for digital natives, it seems that the Internet and smartphones are not just tools for exchanging information, but also tools for building relationships of trust.

For example, social media is not only a place to exchange information, but also a place where people feel that how they are perceived by others is very important. In other words, perhaps people are exchanging information on social media while seeking to confirm if they fit in.

However, netiquette, or online etiquette, has not yet been clearly established on such platforms. Therefore, the use of emojis that convey feelings, and the response time to be marked as read, play important roles. Digital natives can be very concerned and even hurt by the amount and the kind of emojis received, and when they see their message marked read but have no reply.

For the generations who exchanged postal letters, it may be hard to understand how such digital natives feel, or feel pity that digital natives are swayed by such tools.

The postal letter generations would have rarely wondered if their letters were read immediately.

However, there are various established manners in letters, such as opening phrases, seasonal greetings, closing greetings and concluding remarks, and texts with a stiff or informal tone, etc. People who are unable to use these manners properly would have been regarded as rude, and be either scolded or disliked by others. Moreover, such etiquette for the writing of letters has changed with the times.

Social media is the same as such letters. What is different is that for those who have grown up with smartphones, there are not only those people who proactively use social media, but also those who cannot help but use it.

For them, smartphones are not only a means of communication, but also act as a community space that is provided by a social media platform embedded in their devices.

Despite this, students today still make good friends and still go out to eat and travel together. This provides opportunities for them to show their private side and also show their own preferences and natural inclinations.

This can be interpreted as that they may also feel that being able to show their weaknesses is an effective step in building a relationship of trust and getting a place where they can feel at ease.

In other words, the basic nature of communication remains unchanged, even though the communities have become more diverse compared to previous generations.

CSCW (computer supported cooperative work), which focuses on facilitating human-to-human collaborative work through the utilization of computers, is one of my research fields.

A major theme in this field is human-machine interactions, but it is important to evaluate what that means and what value it brings to humans. The bottom line is to think using a people-centered perception.

It is a common trope in classic science fiction that machines and AI become advanced, and people come under their control. In reality, however, people are able to flexibly adapt to new environments, and their fundamental natures do not change easily.

It is common to see a newly developed tool fail to obtain popularity no matter how convenient it is, or it is used in an unintended way or achieves some unexpected value. In other words, people may change because of tools and may diversify means of communication, but the ultimate decision to use a tool lies with people. And above all, using tools is a kind of communication.

For example, progress is being made in the development of self-driving cars. If they are put into practical use, then traffic accidents may drastically reduce, and people could be able to move faster and easier than ever before. There is no need to grab the steering wheel and get nervous about changing lanes.

However, the cost will be losing that feeling of gratitude toward someone who has made a space for you when you change lanes.

It is a feeling that will not appear if we do not signal that we are changing lanes with a blinker, and this is not communicated and completed. That is to say, what happens with lane changes is also communication between people.

Self-driving cars are operated and controlled by AI and high-performance machines and are highly convenient, but on the other hand, these cars will weaken human-to-human relationships. I wonder what people will choose, and if these cars will become popular. Or they might come to be used in an unexpected manner.

That is also a human-machine interaction which I would like to keep an eye on.

* The information contained herein is current as of June 2021.
* The contents of articles on are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.

Information noted in the articles and videos, such as positions and affiliations, are current at the time of production.