As you can imagine, in nearly 50 years, Communispond has seen a lot of changes in the technology of the way people communicate. For the most part, the changes have simply been in media or in the speed of communication. The basic techniques of good communication — thoughtfulness, clarity of expression, good listening — have remained the same. But over the past ten years or so, technology has begun to work more profound changes on communication. Some of these changes have been good, and some not so good. Here are the four changes I think are having the biggest impact.
1. Communication Abundance. It is cheaper now to have live, interactive conversations across a broad range of media, including text, Skype, and VOIP. It’s one of the things that makes it great to be alive today. The danger I see in this abundance is that when communication is so cheap as to be essentially free, people tend to do it with less forethought. We need to train people to prepare for conversations regardless of medium, because miscommunication always carries a cost. That cost may not be in money, but in the credibility of the communicator or in the enablement of a bad decision.
2. Asynchronous Conversations. One of the great things about email is that it generally gives you time to think about your response. In that way, it’s a lot like letter writing, which is a lost art. People used to write letters with posterity in mind, because recipients tended to keep them. But letter writing is indeed a lost art, and most of us treat email the way we treat casual conversation. We dash it off without thinking or editing. Instead of making us more thoughtful about our communications, it seems to be making us less so. We need to be training people to compose emails for effectiveness, and we need to remind them that emails are forever. They are all out there somewhere on some server or some recipient’s computer, waiting to be unearthed.
3. Less Face Time. Please pardon the pun, but more FaceTime means less face time. We are so dependent on our mobile devices these days that in-person conversations are becoming rare. That’s a shame, because in-person conversations are always more persuasive than any other kind. Yes, they tend to be a little slower than other communications, but that’s because the participants in a conversation will often edit themselves, back up and correct things, and check with each other to make sure they are understood. We hardly ever do that when we’re texting or emailing. In-person conversation is richer than any other form of communication, and it also creates harmony and self-fulfillment in the workplace. Training people in effective in-person communication is an investment that pays off.
4. Self-Expression Unleashed. As a result of blogs and Twitter and other social media, almost anyone today can find a bit of an audience for their self-expression. This is the most dubious communication benefit of modern technology, for it has resulted in a lot of public ranting and mindless blather. Twitter is incredibly useful for organizing people and for distributing news during disasters, but it also seems to create a compelling opportunity for fools and haters. I think there are training options to deal with the other changes, but frankly I don’t know what to do about blather. Maybe it’s just a cost of communication in the modern world.