Media use in long distance friendships

S. Utz

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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New media such as email and mobile phones have made it easier to maintain relationships over distances. The present paper examines which media people use to maintain long-distance friendships. The main focus lies on the comparison of email and phone. Media choice theories like media richness theory assume that media can be classified according to their richness, and that people choose the medium which fits best to the affordances of a specific task. The phone as richer medium should be preferred over email in the case of maintenance of long-distance friendships because it is easier to express emotions and to give immediate feedback via phone than via email. Email is an asynchronous medium and communication via email is therefore independent of space and time. Therefore, it can also be argued that email is preferred over the phone because it makes it easier to communicate across different work schedules or even time-zones. In two studies (Study 1 conducted in the Netherlands, Study 2 conducted in Germany) media use in long-distance friendships was measured. Across both studies, email was the most frequently used medium. In Study 1, an interesting asymmetric influence of closeness of the friendship emerged. The closer the friendship, the more emails were written in total, but the less the relative use of email. Instead, the percentage of phone calls increased. Study 2 aimed to replicate and explain this finding and assessed also the content of the phone call or emails. Whereas the intimateness of the emails did not change with increased closeness of the friendship, the intimateness of the phone calls increased with increasing closeness of the friendship. This result indicates that people use email primarily for staying in touch, whereas important personal matters are still discussed on the phone.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)693-712
Number of pages20
JournalInformation, Communication and Society
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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