Communications in the Digital Age

| January 16, 2020

Communications in the Digital Age

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Communication has been revolutionized by digital technology. Most of the changes that have taken place through communication are positive. However, due to continued misuse of existing digital technologies, natural communication processes as people traditionally understand them have completely been altered. Today, people are obsessed with the idea of mediated communication as opposed to intimate face-to-face communication.

            The technical issues that require to be conceptualized in the digital age have created a scenario whereby the communicators’ attention is always shifted from cues of natural communication to assessment of technical properties of different information platforms (Bollier, 2003). Lee (1994) notes that on the internet for instance, when one decides to listen to a voice message, instead of focusing on the psychological processes that motivated the sender to compose the message, recipients of such a message pay attention first and foremost to the size of the message, the available options for handling the message and whether to share, email, archive, reply to or delete the message.

            When people come together in social environments, they no longer interact in the same way that they traditionally used to. According to Hamelink (1997), Digital communication gadgets have been microminituarized so much that tiny, portable personal digital assistants, blackberries and palmtops perform tasks more efficiently than a conventional desktop computer. Instead of making of natural communication cues, people fiddle with gadgets of technology chatting, sending emails, exchanging videos and music, uploading the latest profile photos on social networking media and generally, having virtual heated debates that are digitally mediated.

            The information technology that exists today enables people to share information such as music, videos, games and virtually any type of online content. Hiltz (2005) observes that the internet is an information superhighway that transmits all these types of digitized information between persons who are in any part of the world. There are so many resources for online fun lovers that it is not possible to exploit a tiny fraction of these opportunities in a lifetime. People who get carried away in the chase for these resources suddenly realize that they have been transformed overnight into computer addicts who are always on stand-by to find out the latest digital wonder in terms of new digital technology and what it means to the existing online social platforms.

            There are many parents who wish that their children could learn about the traditional methods of self expression without depending entirely on the power of technology (Schoder, 2003). Such parents forget that they are the ones who have inculcated undesirable communication behaviors in their children by not regulating their use of computers.

            Conole (2004) notes that the world of academia has changed significantly since the information explosion took place. Almost everyone with an access to a computer and internet connection knows just how easy it is to get digitized books on the internet instead of spending agonizing hours in the library. However, time spent in the brick and mortar library is always important since strong academic relations are built there, through discussions whereby the challenges of accessing reference materials for research purposes are discussed.

            Poor people are yet to get access to the communication privileges that come with the digital age (Eastin, 2000). Whenever scholars from developed countries try to interact academically with their counterparts from poor countries, where information technology penetration is still very low, a breakdown of communication arises because these different people use different approaches to communication. Scholars from poor countries belief that their counterparts from developed countries have learned “more” about the natural communication processes by virtue of having the privilege of accessing computers and the internet.  This belief makes one of the communicators feel underprivileged, therefore he fails to give the communication process all his attention.

            When the digital technology hype was at its climax, many people were excited to see how different cosmopolitan cultures would merge on the cyberspace and result in the creation of a monoculture. However, this did not quite happen. Instead, people who have access to technology have become selective on the people they communicate with. Before engaging in an online communication, both parties have to “size each other out” in order to find out whether there exist many similarities in terms of frames of reference.

            Although digital communication makes people come together on a global platform, it does not necessarily make them converge in terms of communication. Different people get into online communication with different expectations especially at the business level. Rather than the participants meeting in order to use natural communication cues as much as possible in order to get acquainted to each other, they choose to use such facilities as video conferencing. In other words, virtual meetings have taken the place of traditional boardroom meetings, robbing them of the all-important feeling of naturalness. This is not good since when it is “business as usual all the time”, people get caught up in the monotony of work, yet they can do nothing about it in the face of myriads of opportunities for accessing the latest online tricks at the expense of interacting.

            It is surprising that whenever colleagues are in a social environment, interacting, communication processes are not as they used to be. One is either too lazy to rise up and walk over to their friend and whisper something into his fears or he thinks he will be perceived as a techno-novice. The reason for this is that everyone in the social meeting would expect him to send a phone message, an email message or a chat communication.

To many people, especially those trying to warm up to the idea of internet communication, such a scenario provides them with an opportunity to create a scene by looking at his friend and witnessing the wonder of internet communication taking place, as the face of the recipient changes in response to the intended mood of the message sent. This not only baffles the rest of the participants in the social interaction, it also disrupts the natural process of sharing jokes, bad experiences and seducing each other. Rather than heated debates being tabled before a group for a heated dialogical engagement, they are uploaded on the internet and presented for the impersonal, surreal discussion that is without the flavor of natural communication processes (Lam, 1997).

            Whenever people of different cultures meet physically, there is tendency for them to become curious about the diversity that exists between their cultures (Parikka, 2009). However, in the advent of information technology and the digital age, a worrying trend is emerging. Whenever a Chinese meets an Australian Aborigine, instead of interactions ensuing, researches commence. The Chinese reaches out for his phone and so does the aborigine. As a matter of fact, these phones have internet connectivity where one can search for information about other people’s cultures. The Chinese keys in the word “Aborigine” while the Aborigine keys in the word “Chinese” on an internet search engine. This way, an opportunity for two people to talk to each other like people used to do in the olden days is lost.

            Digital communication works well only when it is used to support natural interpersonal processes. People who perceive weakness in terms of interpersonal skills resort to technology. The illusion that this technology will do everything for them clouds their thinking. It prevents them from realizing their full potential in terms of creativity. Instead of thinking how the next message will be effective, they only think about what its place will be in the world of monocultural communication.

            Communication on the internet keeps changing all the time. Even linguists are worried at the rate in which new terms are being coined in efforts to smoothen things out, in mimic to the high level of efficiency that technology brings about. Again, some of the new terms that are coined are unnecessary. They are a byproduct of confusion among communicators who are too adventurous with online communication that they always miss the point in efforts to be overzealous with language.

            In conclusion, the digital age comes with many surprises to many conservative who value the good old times when people used to gather around and talk uninterruptedly. When the penetrative power of digital communication is overemphasized, its interactive power is lost (Herring, 2004). The gadgets of digital technology are here with us and they will always claim stake in every communication setting. Human privacy no longer exists, especially for people who are not willing disciplines enough to leave their gadgets at home whenever they are not in a mood to be interrupted by incoming mails, chat messages, shared music and video, to mention just but a few. Perhaps with time, people will learn how not to overestimate the power of digital communication and instead, learn how to supplement it with natural communication processes.

References

Bollier, D. 2003. The Future of Creative Control in the Digital Age: Introductory Remarks. Artists, Technology & the Ownership of Creative Content USC Annenberg School for Communication.

Conole, G. 2004. What are the affordances of information and communication technologies? ALT-J, 12(2) 113 – 124.

Eastin, M. 2000. Internet Self-Efficacy and the Psychology of the Digital Divide. JCMC 6 (1) 12-20.

Herring, M. 2004. Review: Breaking Bad Habits: A Review Essay, Libraries & Culture, 39(4) 452-460.

Hamelink, C. 1997. New Information and Communication Technologies, Social Development and Cultural Change. United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.

Hiltz, S. 2005. Education Goes Digital: The Evolution of Online Learning and the Revolution in Higher Education Communications of the ACM archive, 48(10), 59 – 64.

Lam, S. 1997. The Effects of Group Decision Support Systems and Task Structures on Group Communication and Decision Quality, Journal of Management Information Systems archive.13 (4) 193 – 215.

Lee, E.1994. Digital Communication. Massachusetts: Kluwer Academic publishers Group.

Parikka, S. 2009. The Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn and Other Anomalies from the Dark Side of Digital Culture. London: Routledge.

Schoder, D. 2003. Peer-to-Peer Prospects, Communications of the ACM archive 46(2) 27 – 29.

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