In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Technology, Human Relationships, and Human Interaction

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Organizations
  • Technology-Mediated Communication
  • Theoretical Approaches
  • Social Work Practice Implications

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

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


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.

    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.

  • 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.

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

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

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

  • 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.39.10.1123

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

  • 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.53.9.1017

    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.

  • 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.

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

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

    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.

  • 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.

    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.

  • 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/43.3.254

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

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

    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.

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

    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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