Thursday, April 4, 2013

Technology: Help or Hindrance to Communication


This is an essay I wrote two months ago in my speech class, now publicly publishing* it.

Communication is extremely different than even a decade ago (Frenkel). The integration of email and social networking sites has benefited and prohibited effective communication by providing instantaneous feedback, disallowing one to study their kinesics, and taking time to reflect and ponder what they just received. Habitual reevaluation is necessary to see the benefits and downfalls of each channel of communication we use (Frenkel).
Some wonder why this is a dilemma now. Before the deep integration of email the use of letter writing was much larger. Humans are used to the joyous feeling of getting mail. Standing by the mailbox on a summer afternoon opening cards from your friends and family. When you run inside and are enthused to respond right away to their letter, you get in the right mood and reflect a little before you start writing (Rosen). Unlike this rare event of the past “we are living in an age of electronic intimacy” and for most people “this is new emotional terrain” (Rosen). Very seldom do people take time to write letters. Their replacement has been the introduction of email. The encoding process of typing an email differs greatly from that of the emotional rush before writing a letter. “I do notice that emails are often fired off without any real consideration” and have been subject to great variance in the receiver's decoding because of their purpose (Rees-Mogg).
Contrary to the popular belief of most, emails and communication using new channels of technology do have benefits. The acquaintances formed using pen and paper can now be accessed by your fingertips in real time online (Rosen). Using email allows for time to think and reflect before responding (Cellan-Jones). One also gets a dopamine, stimulant that makes one happy, high when you get new emails, texts and interactions. (Rosen). Much of the communication we now do is non-verbal and carries into every part of our lives. A day of work consists of using many channels, which can be but are not limited to calling, texting, emailing, instant messaging, blogging, tweeting, and participating in webinars (Frenkel). The ease of sharing and resharing emails is a much simpler way of communicating without needing to re-encode a message each time. An AT&T commercial portrays effective communication as businessmen sit in a coffee shop emailing into a meeting (Rosen). An account from an English writer, Roy Cellan-Jones, sums up that “I can’t imagine how I would do my job without tools like Twitter” (Cellan-Jones). Various technologies available to us benefit, not hinder our communication. We have become smarter because of technology. It has improved some’s self perception by allowing them to be social without face-to-face impromptu conversations. Some types of people need time to think before relaying their feedback and technology grants that to them. “Technology is a massive aid to communication” by gaining the opportunity of instantaneous feedback and the constant development of new forms that grant us the use of paralanguage and kinesics. The ever changing “communication technologies provide an addition, not a replacement, for traditional means” of communicating (Cellan-Jones).
New communication also has many downsides (Frenkel). The use of email has a defined purpose of efficiency, not human feelings (Rosen). It was not intended for the purpose of entertaining but to exert control and inform. Email as it was designed, could have devastating impacts on our businesses and society. The enhancements to technology is driving us to be lazier about talking with one another. Administrators writing emails that are encoded with frustration could be decoded as anger and rejection which could lead to contracts or business being missed out on. That business decision will be regretted in the future because of a moment not taken to check for an encoding error (Cellan-Jones). Your words permanently stay in writing and attached to your name so the take the time to make sure they are beneficial for you (Frenkel).
Old, one-way communication.
If not used with a formal purpose, email could become an addictive habit (Cellan-Jones). It has evolved into the lazy way of communicating (Price). Executives have viewed it as the ruder form of communicating with someone because very little effort is involved. Getting hooked online is dangerous to the art of talking face to face but the large amounts of tweets, facebook messages, and phone calls every day are overwhelming. Overwhelming, but appreciated because you are able to use photos and voice to encode and decode a message allowing for more effective feedback that email does not provide (Cellan-Jones). One advancement in our society that has caused this revolution of ditching email is our smart phones giving us the happiness of being connected and receiving feedback much faster than an email provides it (Rosen).
Email has come under fire because of it’s ancient years in technology time. The foundation it laid for online communication has transformed us into data hungry creatures. It has turned private friendships into a mass spectator sport where everyone watches and participates while companies like Facebook collect from our profits. Our society demands us to publicize our feelings and relationships frequently. It has caused our self perception to change dramatically by creating more self conscious human beings. Many people suffer from society anxiety when they do not receive any new messages. The more friends one tends to have on Facebook increased their chance of saying others lived happier lives than them (Rosen). Ones online presence and digital footprint “often lays the foundation for your reputation long before you can shape it yourself” (Frenkel). A majority of people perceive “themselves rather than their appliances as being ‘plugged in’” (Rosen).
Using technology as a channel extremely limits your ability to send and receive information effectively. Sarcasm cannot be interpreted through “words on a screen” and leads to ineffective communication and possibly a communication breakdown. There are many numerous ways you can understand one simple sentence. As human communicators, one should be able to recognize where the error occurred and know how to go about fixing it with feedback and clarification. It is normal for one to make assumptions when encoding because “the fact that you know how you intend for your message to be received biases you even more to believe that’s the way your message will be read” (Frenkel). Many times when reading someones post or email it can be misinterpreted because of a lack of background and purpose. The feedback that follows is the most important piece in being an effective communicator (Frenkel).
Crucial steps in avoiding ineffective communication are not difficult at all. The first item to check for is your purpose. Use the channel appropriate to the event and purpose of your communication. Are you entertaining, exerting control, informing, sharing feelings, entertaining or simply being a conformist of following social rules because everyone else uses that channel of communication? If you have received an email in all caps with an encoding of excitement, you probably decoded it as being yelled at. If the sender would have sent you a text, the informality would have suggested something more fun (Frenkel). Email is best for relaying information to one person, not many who have no meaning behind why they were included in your email chain. Some companies, such as Atos, have banned email as a form of communicating within the company. Volkswagen has also prohibited its Blackberry servers from sending email to an employee 30 minutes after their shift is over. These companies are “not rejecting modern communication but recognizing that a new generation already thinks email is old hat” (Cellan-Jones). The second piece to check for is if you are assuming and taking the shortcut. This can greatly hinder effective communication as well. It is okay to assume as long as you are aware of when you are doing it and ready to defend yourself from the receiver. Train yourself to make the assumption that many people will be reading your words. Consider the many possibilities that next message has in their decoding process (Frenkel). If “you can do the count to ten rule and think a bit before you respond” all should be fine (Bulger). Adding into the equation everything happening around you, do not let the distractions affect the cognitive load in your mind (Cellan-Jones).
Talking is important (Cellan-Jones). As more people realize this there will tend to be more migratory friendships, connections that started online that form into face-to-face, real world relationships. By having access and constant feedback will humans become unable to demonstrate the feeling of longing for one another? (Rosen). “We used to simply drop in on people or bump into them in the street”. We were “able to visualize the ‘whites of their eyes’ when making direct contact (Cellan-Jones). The use of kinesics has been forgotten in many forms of communication besides personal confrontation. This is a very important part of communication because we miss 75% of what we hear each day. If we are able to watch and connect ones actions over their words we receive a verbal and nonverbal message to decode correctly. This is a big improvement in having effective communication without interference. As a group of college students summarized best, “you use social networking and modern technology to arrange meeting face to face” (Cellan-Jones).
It has come time to “Rethink Possible” and reexamine our world and how we communicate between cultures, species and even ideas (AT&T). Before, “ a closed door usually stayed closed forever. No longer” is this the case (Rosen). Integrating email and social networking into our lives has benefited and prohibited effective communication over forms of talking and letter writing by providing constant feedback, blocking one from studying their kinesics and taking time to reflect and think before sending our feedback. We live in a constantly changing world but humans adapt. We have previously and we can again. The question though is will it be for the better? (Rosen).

Works Cited
Cellan-Jones, Rory. "We Don't Talk Any More - Is Technology Harming Communication?" BBC News Technology. BBC, 29 Dec. 2011. Web. 12 Feb. 2013. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-16313832>.
Frenkel, Stephen. "Communication 2.0: The Perils of Communicating Through Technology." Harvard Negotiation Law Review. Harvard Negotiation Law Review, 5 Apr. 2009. Web. 12 Feb. 2013. <http://www.hnlr.org/2009/04/communication-20-the-perils-of-communicating-through-technology/>.
Rosen, Christine. "Electronic Intimacy." Wilson Quarterly 36.2 (2012): 48-51. Literary Reference Center. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

*While creating reduntant alliterated introduction phrases.