Humans have always found ways to communicate. It may have started with etched drawings on the wall of a cave, but it has evolved into language, penmanship, and now, the digital world we live in. All forms of expression, be they images, music, and both the spoken and written word, can all be represented digitally now.
The ability to communicate effectively has a direct effect on our capacity to solve problems. That could be at the clinical level – or the personal level. The digital era presents us with countless ways to connect and communicate. But there are times when I think that it has done us more harm than good.
Has the digital era made us more effective in communication? Or did Led Zeppelin have it right when Robert Plant sang the immortal words to “Communication Breakdown”?
We live in an era with many levels of digital communication and sharing. We communicate via email, text, phone, and similar digital technologies. A new verb – Facebooking – has arrived. We share anything and everything with anyone who will listen and even with those that won’t. World, hear me roar, because I have status updates. We now have a social media stream of consciousness.
It has made us better able to connect on a broader level, with people we wouldn’t normally connect. It has made the world a much smaller place in so many ways. But has it improved our ability to truly connect at a deeper level?
Not so long ago, we depended upon the great skill of composition, using care and respect and love to craft a sentence reflective of our feelings and intent. A letter was composed methodically because you knew there was only one opportunity to do it correctly. Now? “Shoot me an email”. A great percentage of people now have pretty mediocre writing skills. If you are sending text messages, you probably don’t even make the effort to write sentences or full words anymore. Dickens must be rolling around in his grave.
Sitting behind a computer screen creates an inherent anonymity and disconnect while composing that email or firing off that status update. The extra effort made to be considerate and respectful before verbalizing a thought or committing that thought to paper oftentimes gets thrown asunder. It is much easier to let things slide and be much more flippant in the words you choose. These new habits often translate into our daily interpersonal skills as well. Not every interaction is as simple as a status update, you know.
“Communication Breakdown, It's always the same, I'm having a nervous breakdown, Drive me insane!” (Led Zeppelin, “Communication Breakdown”)
There is a communication breakdown in the digital era. It all starts with this thing we call rapport. Non-verbal communication is believed to account for 55% of the meaning of your communication. But non-verbal communication is, for many intents and purposes, lost when you thrive in the digital interaction landscape. You confuse words and contexts, and the writing skills (or lack thereof) make it worse . When you take 55% of the meaning away, it stands to reason that a lot gets lost in translation.
When that becomes the standard by which you communicate, then it is no wonder that much is lost in terms of “connection” with people. It is no wonder that discussions become polarized. It shouldn’t surprise us that we get “un-friended” because we offend “friends” with our words and opinions.
Does the digital world hamper the quality of our communication? Does it promote a mediocrity of expression?
Or does it force us to make better choices about how we communicate? If so, are we actually doing so?
Photo credits: z0xx.