Social Work Technology, Human Relationships, and Human Interaction
by
Angela N. Bullock, Alex D. Colvin
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0249

Introduction

The utilization of technology to create and maintain relationships among people has become commonplace. According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of American adults who own a tablet computer increased from 3 percent in 2010 to 45 percent in 2015, and the percentage of American adults who own a cell phone increased from 53 percent in 2000 to 92 percent in 2015. Furthermore, in 2015, 76 percent of online adults used some type of social networking site, compared to 8 percent in 2005. Technology is often introduced into a social system with the stated intention of making life easier for people. As technology becomes more pervasive in everyday life, the assessment of technology’s presence in relationships and its impact on how humans interact with one another is an emerging area of study. There are many perspectives on the relationship between technology and human interactions and relationships. It is purported that the integration of technologies in everyday life can have profound effects on human relationships, in both positive and negative ways. More notably, technologies impact on or interfere with how individuals engage in interpersonal relationships, behave within relationships, and project feelings and meanings including displays of emotions and love. Essentially, the new technological landscape now connects to what it means to be human.

Introductory Works

This section presents a sample of early works that guided research into the fostering of relationships and interpersonal interactions through technology. Kiesler, et al. 1984 looks beyond the efficiency and technical capabilities of computer communication technologies and provides insight into the psychological, social, and cultural significance of technology. Jones 1994 provides a comprehensive examination of the varying aspects of social relationships in cyberspace. Preliminary studies that provide best-practice recommendations for the adoption of technology-based intervention in social work practice include Pardeck and Schulte 1990; Cwikel and Cnaan 1991; Schopler, et al. 1998; and Gonchar and Adams 2000. Lea and Spears 1995; Kraut, et al. 1998; and Nie and Erbring 2000 offer early insight into how the Internet began to shape the way humans interact.

  • Cwikel, Julie, and Ram Cnaan. 1991. Ethical dilemmas in applying second-wave information technology to social work practice. Social Work 36.2: 114–120.

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    These authors consider ethical dilemmas brought about by the use of information technology in social work practice. They examine the effects on the client–worker relationship of the use of client databases, expert systems, therapeutic programs, and telecommunications.

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  • Gonchar, Nancy, and Joan R. Adams. 2000. Living in cyberspace: Recognizing the importance of the virtual world in social work assessments. Journal of Social Work Education 36:587–600.

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    Utilizing the person-in-environment approach, this source explores the opportunities online communication provides individuals in fostering relationships, either healthy or unhealthy.

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  • Jones, Steve, ed. 1994. CyberSociety: Computer-mediated communication and community. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Explores the construction, maintenance, and mediation of emerging cybersocieties. Aspects of social relationships generated by computer-mediated communication are discussed.

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  • Kiesler, Sara, Jane Siegel, and Timothy W. McGuire. 1984. Social psychological aspects of computer-mediated communication. American Psychologist 39.10: 1123–1134.

    DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.39.10.1123Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors present potential behavior and social effects of computer-mediated communication.

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  • Kraut, Robert, Michael Patterson, Vickie Lundmark, Sara Kiesler, Tridas Mukopadhyay, and William Scherlis. 1998. Internet paradox: A social technology that reduces social involvement and psychological well-being? American Psychologist 53.9: 1017–1031.

    DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.53.9.1017Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This study examines the positive and negative impacts of the Internet on social relationships, participation in community life, and psychological well-being. The implications for research, policy, and technology development are discussed.

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  • Lea, Martin, and Russell Spears. 1995. Love at first byte? Building personal relationships over computer networks. In Understudied relationships: Off the beaten track. Edited by J. T. Wood and S. Duck, 197–233. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This chapter focuses on the connection between personal relationships and computer networks. Previous studies that examine dynamics of online relationships are reviewed.

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  • Nie, Norman H., and Lutz Erbring. 2000. Internet and society: A preliminary report. Stanford, CA: Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society.

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    This study presents the results of an early study that explores the sociological impact of information technology and the role of the Internet in shaping interpersonal relationships and interactions.

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  • Pardeck, John T., and Ruth S. Schulte. 1990. Computers in social intervention: Implications for professional social work practice and education. Family Therapy 17.2: 109.

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    The authors discuss the impact of computer technology on aspects of social work intervention including inventory testing, client history, clinical assessment, computer-assisted therapy, and computerized therapy.

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  • Schopler, Janice H., Melissa D. Abell, and Maeda J. Galinsky. 1998. Technology-based groups: A review and conceptual framework for practice. Social Work 43.3: 254–267.

    DOI: 10.1093/sw/43.3.254Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors examine studies of social work practice using telephone and computer groups. Social work practice guidelines for technology-based groups are discussed.

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  • Turkle, Sherry. 1984. The second self: Computers and the human spirit. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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    Explores the use of computers not as tools but as part of our social and psychological lives and how computers affect our awareness of ourselves, of one another, and of our relationship with the world.

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  • Weizenbaum, Joseph. 1976. Computer power and human reason: From judgment to calculation. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman.

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    Examines the sources of the computer’s power including the notions of the brilliance of computers and offers evaluative explorations of computer power and human reason. The book presents common theoretical issues and applications of computer power such as computer models of psychology, natural language, and artificial intelligence.

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Reference Works

Coleman and Ganong 2004 and Lievrouw and Livingstone 2009 discuss social dimensions of technology. Danver 2016 explores the online development of professional relationships, while Christensen and Levinson 2003 considers the dynamics of online personal relationships. Theoretical approaches and material on maintaining relationships through information and communication technology (ICT) can be found in Berger and Roloff 2016.

Textbooks

In an effort to better prepare students to understand the impact of ICT on human relationships and human interactions, more textbooks have been published for psychologists, sociologists, social workers, and other professionals. Current textbooks such as Haddon 2016, Baecker 2014, Gamble and Gamble 2013, and Stahl 2007 provide content on the social dynamics of the medium and its influences on behavior, psychology, and human interaction. Textbooks with content focusing on practical skills, such as building connections, are also used in psychology and social work courses (see Kim 2015). Cultural contexts and material on intercultural and interpersonal communication through technology can be found in Kiesler 2014 and Jandt 2016. Duck 2007 provides information on research for understanding human relationships with technology.

  • Baecker, Ronald M., ed. 2014. Readings in human–computer interaction: Toward the year 2000. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann.

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    This book discusses human–computer interaction within historical, intellectual, and social contexts. Chapters include content on interacting with computers, psychology and human factors, and human–computer interactions.

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  • Duck, Steve. 2007. Human relationships. 4th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Includes chapters on relating difficulty, small media technology and relationships, and practical applications.

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  • Gamble, Teri K., and Michael W. Gamble. 2013. Interpersonal communication: Building connections together. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Examines how media, technology, gender, and culture affect the dynamics of relationship and self-expression. Divided into four parts, it explores an array of communication settings including family, workplace, and health.

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  • Haddon, Leslie. 2016. The social dynamics of information and communication technology. New York: Routledge.

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    This book provides insights into the social dynamics influencing how ICTs are shaped and experienced. Chapters focus on the symbolic nature of technologies, the influence of design on the experience of ICTs, the role of users in influencing that design, the social constraints affecting the use of those technologies, and strategies for evaluating the social consequences of ICT innovations.

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  • Jandt, Fred E. 2016. An introduction to intercultural communication: Identities in a global community. 8th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Considers the impact of new communication technology on intercultural encounters as part of a broader engagement with intercultural communication emphasizing history, culture, and popular media.

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  • Kiesler, Sara, ed. 2014. Culture of the Internet. New York: Psychology Press.

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    This book presents a collection of essays and research reports on the new social technology, specifically concerning the social processes of electronic communication and their effects in society.

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  • Kim, Gerard J. 2015. Human–computer interaction: Fundamentals and practice. Boca Raton, FL: CRC.

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    Introduces the cycle of human–computer interaction design and implementation and the factors influencing it: formation of human–computer interaction requirements, modeling the interaction process, designing the interface, implementing the resulting design, and evaluating the implemented product.

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  • Kraut, Robert, Malcolm Brynin, and Sara Kiesler. 2006. Computers, phones, and the Internet. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This books presents research on the impact of rapidly changing ICTs on daily life.

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  • Stahl, Bernd C., ed. 2007. Issues and trends in technology and human interaction. Hershey, PA: IRM Press.

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    Focusing on various approaches to the study of technology and human interaction, the book investigates how humans use technology and how technology can influence their behavior.

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Journals

Journal of Technology in Human Services presents professional literature on evidence-based approaches for integrating technology in human service settings. Journals such as Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking and Computers in Human Behavior focus on the psychological impacts of technology. Societal impacts of technology are explored in News Media and Society, Social Science Computer Review, and Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. Global aspects regarding the utilization of technology and human connections are presented in International Journal of Technology and Human Interaction.

Organizations

The Pew Internet and Life Project and the Center for the Digital Future provide historical and current data on the use and impact of online technology.

Technology-Mediated Communication

Humans have increasingly used technology-mediated communication to interact interpersonally and maintain relationships. Goodman-Deane, et al. 2016; Coyne, et al. 2011; and Sprecher 2009 explore the social effects of technology-mediated communication in relationships. Hand, et al. 2013; Campbell and Murray 2015; and Pettigrew 2009 present work on interpersonal relationship satisfaction. Family and communication issues are the focus of Hertlein and Blumer 2013, Blinn-Pike 2009, and Lanigan 2009.

  • Blinn-Pike, L. 2009. Technology and the family: An overview from the 1980s to the present. Marriage & Family Review 45.6–8: 567–575.

    DOI: 10.1080/01494920903224459Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This provides an overview of the issue of family and communication, including historical trends on the role of the home computer and Internet in the family since the 1980s progressing through the 1990s and 2000s.

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  • Campbell, Emily C., and Christine E. Murray. 2015. Measuring the impact of technology on couple relationships: The development of the Technology and Intimate Relationship Assessment. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy 14.3: 254–276.

    DOI: 10.1080/15332691.2014.953657Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors survey 241 undergraduate and graduate students who identified as being in a committed, monogamous intimate relationship to evaluate the impact of technology use on romantic relationship intimacy.

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  • Coyne, Sarah M., Laura Stockdale, Dean Busby, Bethany Iverson, and David M. Grant. 2011. “I luv u:)!”: A descriptive study of the media use of individuals in romantic relationships. Family Relations 60.2: 150–162.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1741-3729.2010.00639.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This study examines the use of technologies for communication within romantic relationships.

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  • Goodman-Deane, Joy, Anna Mieczakowski, Daniel Johnson, Tanya Goldhaber, and P. John Clarkson. 2016. The impact of communication technologies on life and relationship satisfaction. Computers in Human Behavior 57:219–229.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2015.11.053Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This study examines the effects of various types of communications technology on different kinds of relationships, such as close and extended families and close and distant friends.

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  • Hand, Matthew M., Donna Thomas, Walter C. Buboltz, Eric D. Deemer, and Munkhsanaa Buyanjargal. 2013. Facebook and romantic relationships: Intimacy and couple satisfaction associated with online social network use. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 16.1: 8–13.

    DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2012.0038Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The researchers examine time spent on online social networks and the relation of this to intimacy and relationship satisfaction experienced in romantic relationships.

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  • Hertlein, Katherine M., and Markie L. C. Blumer. 2013. The couple and family technology framework: Intimate relationships in a digital age. New York: Routledge.

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    Considers the way that different technologies affect relationships in different ways, as well as the way that relationships affect the use of different technologies; presents a resource for dealing with couple infidelity; and introduces a new discipline called “couple and family technology” for research into family activity online.

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  • Lanigan, Jane D. 2009. A sociotechnological model for family research and intervention: How information and communication technologies affect family life. Marriage & Family Review 45.6–8: 587–609.

    DOI: 10.1080/01494920903224194Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Compares, in respect of how technologies are incorporated within the family context, (a) the effects of multifunctional technologies, such as cellular phones or personal computers, with (b) the influence of familial, extrafamilial, and individual characteristics. The authors propose the sociotechnological family conceptual model as a framework for understanding the influence of information and computer technology on family life.

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  • McKenna, Katelyn Y., and John A. Bargh. 2009. Causes and consequences of social interaction on the Internet: A conceptual framework. Media Psychology 1.3: 249–269.

    DOI: 10.1207/s1532785xmep0103_4Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article discusses social interaction on the Internet, its similarities and differences to more traditional forms of interaction, and its impact on individuals.

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  • Pettigrew, Jonathan. 2009. Text messaging and connectedness within close interpersonal relationships. Marriage & Family Review 45.6–8: 697–716.

    DOI: 10.1080/01494920903224269Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This research study explores how respondents perceive and use text messages within close interpersonal dyads. The findings indicate texting to be more constant and private than mobile voice interaction.

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  • Sprecher, Susan. 2009. Relationship initiation and formation on the Internet. Marriage & Family Review 45.6–8: 761–782.

    DOI: 10.1080/01494920903224350Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors conduct a review of literature on relationship formation over the Internet, including the difference between online and traditional relationship initiation.

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Theoretical Approaches

Because of the evolution of technology and its impact on society, it is important to have a knowledge base of theories and practice models of the impact of ICT on interpersonal relations. The main theoretical approaches and models include social information processing theory (see Walther 2016; Sprecher and Hampton 2016; Olaniran, et al. 2012) and the hyperpersonal model (Brody 2013; Jiang, et al. 2011; High and Caplan 2009; Anderson and Emmers-Sommer 2006). This section details studies addressing these theories and models, including some that consider their practical application.

  • Anderson, Traci, and Tara Emmers-Sommer. 2006. Predictors of relationship satisfaction in online romantic relationships. Communication Studies 57.2: 153–172.

    DOI: 10.1080/10510970600666834Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides implications for interpersonal and hyperpersonal communication theories by examining online romantic relationship satisfaction.

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  • Brody, Nicholas. 2013. Absence—and mediated communication—makes the heart grow fonder: Clarifying the predictors of satisfaction and commitment in long-distance friendships. Communication Research Reports 30.4: 323–332.

    DOI: 10.1080/08824096.2013.837388Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors integrate research on the hyperpersonal model of computer-mediated communication and long-distance (romantic and dating) relationships.

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  • High, Andrew, and Scott Caplan. 2009. Social anxiety and computer-mediated communication during initial interactions: Implications for the hyperpersonal perspective. Computers in Human Behavior 25.2: 475–482.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2008.10.011Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors utilize the theoretical underpinnings of the hyperpersonal perspective to examine the association between computer-mediated communication and social anxiety.

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  • Jiang, L. Crystal, Natalie N. Bazarova, and Jeffrey T. Hancock. 2011. The disclosure–intimacy link in computer-mediated communication: An attributional extension of the hyperpersonal model. Human Communication Research 37.1: 58–77.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.2010.01393.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    To understand intimate personal relationships fostered by computer-mediated communication, this study reviews the theoretical background of the disclosure–intimacy link and proposes an expansion of the hyperpersonal model.

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  • Olaniran, Bolanle A., Natasha Rodriguez, and Indi M. Williams. 2012. Social information processing theory (SIPT): A cultural perspective for international online communication environments. In Computer-mediated communication across cultures: International interactions in online environments. Edited by Kirk St. Amant and Sigrid Kelsey, 45–65. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

    DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-833-0.ch004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The chapter explores social information processing theory and gives an overview of important components of computer-mediated communication interaction.

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  • Sprecher, Susan, and Adam J. Hampton. 2016. Liking and other reactions after a get-acquainted interaction: A comparison of continuous face-to-face interaction versus interaction that progresses from text messages to face-to-face. Communication Quarterly 1–21.

    DOI: 10.1080/01463373.2016.1256334Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The study evaluates how computer-mediated communication compares to face-to-face for making initial social connections. Using the social information processing model as the theoretical framework, the results indicate that those who interacted over computer-mediated text reported less enjoyment of interaction and closeness with partners than those who interacted face-to-face.

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  • Walther, Joseph B. 2016. Social information processing theory (CMC). In The international encyclopedia of interpersonal communication. Vol. 3. Edited by Charles R Berger and Michael E Roloff, 1–13. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

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    The authors present fundamental content on social information processing theory and explain how individuals use computer-mediated communication to develop interpersonal impressions and to advance relational communication over time online. The entry reviews the theory’s basic tenets, empirical support, theoretical revisions, challenges from alternative theoretical perspectives, and implications of newer forms of computer-mediated communication for the theory’s status.

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Social Work Practice Implications

The research studies in this section focus on examining the use of technology in professional social work practice. This area of research is important for effective integration of technology into professional practice in order to foster worker–client relationships. Research studies examine technology-aided practice (see Bullock and Colvin 2014; Dombo, et al. 2014; Perron, et al. 2010; Drumm, et al. 2003). Mishna, et al. 2016; Mishna, et al. 2012; and Zilberstein 2015 offer content on use of ICTs in social work practice. Gelman and Tosone 2010 discusses harnessing technology and interdisciplinary collaboration for community service.

  • Bullock, Angela N., and Alex D. Colvin. 2014. Communication technology integration into social work practice. Advances in Social Work 16.1: 1–14.

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    Examines how the use of technology has evolved in social work practice. The authors explore the technology acceptance model in addressing the challenges that communication technology poses for social work practice.

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  • Dombo, Eileen A., Lisa Kays, and Katelyn Weller. 2014. Clinical social work practice and technology: Personal, practical, regulatory, and ethical considerations for the twenty-first century. Social Work in Health Care 53.9: 900–919.

    DOI: 10.1080/00981389.2014.948585Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The Internet and digital communications have created avenues whereby clients and social workers can engage across multiple platforms. The authors present strategies professionals can use to navigate issues related to technology and clinical practice.

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  • Drumm, René D., H. Virginia McCoy, and Alicia Lemon. 2003. Technology trauma: Barriers to increasing technology utilization. Social Work in Health Care 37.4: 39–56.

    DOI: 10.1300/J010v37n04_03Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This qualitative study examines the barriers to increasing technology utilization in agencies that serve drug-abusing populations. Core themes include agency personnel’s lack of computer proficiency, lack of motivation for agency personnel to participate in the intervention, and agency personnel not following intervention protocols.

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  • Dunlop, Judith M. 2006. Information technology and evidence-based social work practice. Binghamton, NY: Haworth.

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    This book examines the technological link between social work and evidence-based practice. Positive and negative impacts of advanced technology in social work are presented.

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  • Gelman, Caroline R., and Carol Tosone. 2010. Teaching social workers to harness technology and inter-disciplinary collaboration for community service. British Journal of Social Work 40.1: 226–238.

    DOI: 10.1093/bjsw/bcn081Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors conduct a review of literature on the use of media in social work and the ways visual technology has been used to harness the power for intervention with and on behalf of client populations at risk.

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  • Mishna, Faye, Marion Bogo, Jennifer Root, Jami-Leigh Sawyer, and Mona Khoury-Kassabri. 2012. “It just crept in”: The digital age and implications for social work practice. Clinical Social Work Journal 40.3: 277–286.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10615-012-0383-4Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This qualitative study of fifteen social work practitioners’ experiences and views of whether and how online communication has entered their face-to-face practice finds that cyber communication has dramatically changed the nature of professional relationships.

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  • Mishna, Faye, Sophia Fantus, and Lauren B. McInroy. 2016. Informal use of information and communication technology: Adjunct to traditional face-to-face social work practice. Clinical Social Work Journal 45.1: 49–55.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10615-016-0576-3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses how the informal use of ICTs have expanded and altered existing social work practice.

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  • Perron, Brian E., Harry O. Taylor, Joseph E. Glass, and Jon Margerum-Leys. 2010. Information and communication technologies in social work. Advances in Social Work 11.2: 67–81.

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    Discusses potential pitfalls, challenges, and strategies with respect to the adoption of ICTs in social work.

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  • Zilberstein, Karen. 2015. Technology, relationships and culture: Clinical and theoretical implications. Clinical Social Work Journal 43.2: 151–158.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10615-013-0461-2Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author evaluates the impact of technology on psychotherapy and the stance therapists should take in work with clients. The positive and negative outcomes related to cybercommunication are presented.

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