Monday, October 09, 2006

Wired - The Warmth of Human Contact

There's an interesting article on Wired about communication in the tech age. The author makes some valid points.

"...our actual communication skills are eroding. Instant communication encourages superficiality in the way we talk to each other."

I'm not sure if our communication skills are actually getting worse, or if it's simply that we're communicating a lot more with a lot of people, which exposes us to more bad communicators whom we might not have interacted with before the ubiquity of the Internet. I think people who would have communicated well in those days do so even now - they just seem much rarer. The ease with which communication is now possible allows poor or lazy communicators to make themselves heard with little effort, and the end result is a volume of commentary that ranges from the glib to the downright stupid.

On the other hand, ease of communication does encourage everyone to shoot off emails and messages without giving them much thought. This can be a good thing when used appropriately (especially when working on a project of some sort, where I find email 'conversations' to be common and useful), but an over-indulgence in this manner of communication is annoying. One thing that really bugs me personally is the use of shorthand, primarily used for SMS messages but more and more frequently in message board postings and email. If you want to say something, take the time to say it properly dammit!

"it's still the quality of the communication that counts."

And it always will be, one hopes.

"Perversely, a lot of younger people are growing more comfortable with texting than actually speaking to a living person."

I agree with his sentiment that speaking to people face to face is probably the best and most candid form of communication in most cases, especially when it comes to personal exchanges. On the other hand, some people are simply not as comfortable as others when it comes to face to face contact, or are less adept at getting their thoughts across verbally. I think his point about the quality of communication applies in this case as well - if you're going to get something across better by writing it down, then you should write it down. The type of communication being attempted is also relevant - talking shop via email is fine, but apologizing via a text message is coldly impersonal.

I think most would agree that limiting yourself wholly to only one form of communication is probably a bad thing, especially if that form is something as limited as text messaging!

"our increasing dependence upon technology has trivialized the art of living"

The communication issue is just a subset of all the other issues related to the so called 'digital' lifestyle, one that is steeped in multi-tasking. Does having too much on our plates result in a lack of depth in our lives? Even beginning to talk about that is too much for this post! I will say this, however - I now frequently find myself guilty of jumping from one thing to the next without fully committing my attention to any one of them. And I don't like it...


sanity index said...

There is an old saying that if a million monkeys typed on a million keyboards for a million years, eventually all the works of Shakespeare would be produced. Now, thanks to Usenet, we know this is not true.

You've heard of that saying, right? :) (I think I date myself by quoting something that mentions many people know what that is now?)

Text messaging via the phone is pretty bad, I'll give you that, but I am ok with instant messaging or chatrooms. I've had some very nice conversations that way, but it could just be the people with whom I was conversing.

Sometimes it takes me twice as long to figure out what people are trying to say with their short hand "net speak." They also give me the impression of being 12 year olds who can't spell for their lives. :D

Antimatter said...

I've heard variations of that :D. I must confess that my experience with Usenet is limited to a few esoteric technical newsgroups. That sound you hear is my geek card being torn up...

I'm ok with the medium... it's the way it's used that gets to me. I've had great conversations via email and IM as well. As you said, it's the people (and the way they use the medium) that make the difference.

If they WERE 12 year olds, I'd be prone to forgiving them. It's when they're much older and should know better that's scary! There's only so much you can convey with shorthand... that's probably why it's called shorthand! :)

sanity index said...

Well, I was a heavy Usenet user back when I had access to a UNIX-based system where everything was done in text. Checking email in PINE, editing using Emacs, using the space bar to scroll through Usenet postings...I miss those days. Do I get geek emeritus status for being a had-been? :)

You know what's almost as bad as texting shorthand? whEN pEoPLe tYpE LiKE tHis! (It took me a minute just to type that out!)

Antimatter said...

Thanks for scrambling my brain with that text! :D

That sounds really cool! I am envious...

Sorry, you can't retire from geekdom, it's a lifelong contract... You'll have to settle for just 'Geek'...