Communication has evolved drastically since the turn of the century. New technologies have taken us into a new era of living, one where old-world expectations are being tossed out for new ones. And, tensions have risen as society painfully adapts to a reality shift that has come into existence before social rules could be developed. We’re seeing this play out in nearly every dimension of society and the new social media landscape has been it’s most formidable contributor. With each new era comes new and unique struggles and golly do we have a unique struggle on our hands.
According to a Gallup Poll, sending and receiving text messages is the most popular form of communication for people younger than 50. More than likely, this will not surprise anyone. But, it’s not often that we take time to ask ourselves what our behavior in this new realm says about us in the modern era.
The best way to think about daily communication is to think like a computer. The first thing a computer does, in simple terms, is look for the information available to it so that it can move on to the next step, using that information for a task that was specified in the beginning. A computer has to engage the data it has available to it. Humans do the same thing. Whether consciously or not, you pick up lots of information and make decisions based on what is learned or perceived. In conversation, you can see how a person holds themselves, how their shoulders become tense or their eyes light up or how boisterous their laughter is. These nodes of data act as a complex network of feedback mechanisms that inform you and shape the communication to follow.
If you were to perform an audit of your communication methods, what would you find? How do you reach out to an audience, for what reason, and what is the overall result of your communication? Did you communicate what you wanted to with success?
When texting or communicating via social media channels, you are committing to a communication style that leaves you with far less information than you would have if you were speaking on the phone or in-person. It’s difficult to understand what another person truly means if the communicative hints are confined to words on a screen. However, this can be the most efficient method in a scenario where the content is simple (e.g. taking a friend’s restaurant order). Social media and texting have evolved though. Emojis, gifs, and memes have entered the fray, raising the quality ceiling of these channels. Now, simplistic iconography of our every day interactions can communicate a deeper level of meaning to an audience. This is one of the first adjustments made by our society to patch social media and texting 1.0.
Within the context of a phone call, the audience can hear a voice’s inflection. This gives the audience the ability to make judgments about how you are feeling or how you mean things(e.g. sad, mad, inquisitive, bored, annoyed, excited, etc.). This, too, has evolved. Now, individuals can share a stream of themselves while speaking, raising the quality ceiling on this channel of communication as well. Now, the communicators are exchanging information such as body language. Once in-person, you can use your body as a form of communication by itself (e.g. dancing, physical intimacy of any kind). As proximity increases, so does the amount and quality of information one is able to receive.
In a straightforward sense, each of these communication channels serves a purpose for us. Everyone would agree that each form of communication can be used appropriately or not. But, due to lack of information in certain forms of communication like texting or social media, people often attempt to fill the gaps with what they might perceive as fitting in that empty space and disallow the audience the opportunity to fill in that gap on their own. This is where accountability comes into play. We live in an era when people can hide behind false identities or try to communicate complex ideas through a channel unfit to carry it through to an audience.
The confusion that is born there compounds and festers into outrage and mob-mentality. People end up pinching their complex ideas and feelings through the eye of the Twitter or text needle. There have been many adjustments made to the tools at our disposal and there are sure to be more to come. However, learning all we can about the responsibility each of us has to communicate our ideas and thoughts appropriately is important.