Today’s Digital Communication –
A Blessing or a Curse?
There is no denying the benefits of modern medicine. Where just a hundred years ago people were dying of illnesses like the flu or chickenpox, today we are treating cancers and other diseases that had historically wiped out millions.
But like anything, modern medication has side effects, which are researched and studied over time, and highlighted to the patient. Today, most people refuse to administer or take medicine without understanding how it will impact their bodily functions, their mental state of mind, and other facets of their life.
In other words, even if it saves your life – proceed with caution.
Not so with technology.
The last four decades have brought us technology that existed only in the minds of sci-fi enthusiasts: holograms, virtual reality, augmented reality, and robots that do everything from serve coffee to build houses. Technology has also brought us new and improved methods of communication- communication that is so breathtakingly fast and varied, it is difficult to keep up.
In the 1990s, many people started using email. We suddenly had the ability to send out letters, documents, pictures, and videos to people all over the world in the short time it took to connect your modem and upload the attachment. No more standing in line at post offices or checking PO boxes – written and visual instant communication was suddenly inside of our homes, on our desktop computers.
The ‘90s also brought us instant messaging. We could contact friends, family, and complete strangers across the globe in an instant and at virtually no cost.
By the early 2000s, almost everyone had an email address – or multiple addresses – nearly everyone had tried their hand at messaging and either loved it or hated it, and millions of people across the globe were suddenly carrying mobile phones that did little more than send and receive texts and calls.
In the next decade, phones evolved into smart devices that did just about everything – you could not only text and call people, you could download ‘apps’ and turn your phone into a smaller replica of your desktop computer or laptop. You could take pictures, edit them, draw, write, record, and play games.
Most importantly, you could now receive emails, instant messages, and voice notes. Suddenly, you could take the office home with you.
Smartphones are what truly changed communication for so many of us. While they provided new and innovative ways to communicate, they also provided new and innovative ways to ensure people were reachable no matter where they were and no matter what time you were contacting them.
Amazing, right? Not necessarily.
Like any good thing, too much of it almost certainly has side effects. What have been the negative side effects of these communication technologies?
No work/life balance. Before smart phones, you could leave your work in the office. Once they left their desk, employees were difficult to reach. Sure – you could call using a landline, but it did not mean you would find the person at the other end.
Today, employees and managers expect a response, no matter where you are or what time it is. If you receive an email at 6 PM, chances are that someone is waiting for a reply before your 8 AM coffee.
Can’t reach you via email? They can reach you through calls or texts. Since the advent of Whatsapp in 2009, they could reach you instantly, for free, regardless of the platform you are using. Not only that- they could actually see if you had read their messages.
Gone were the days of sitting at home with a spouse or children and completely detaching from the job. Now, the job comes to you- virtually every hour of the day.
Distraction, distraction, distraction. Imagine sitting down to read a book or have a conversation with someone and the front doorbell suddenly rings. You get up to answer the front door, and you hear a knock at the back door. You turn to see who it is and the phone rings, the oven timer goes off, and the dog starts barking. What do you do first? Do you ignore it all and go back to your book or conversation?
That is our life today with so many communication channels. We sit down for dinner with family or friends, and all the while, a continuous barrage of notifications lights up our phones and smart watches. Ignoring these notifications requires discipline and effort.
More and more people complain that they are distracted and find themselves continually flitting from one task to the next, from one message or email to a Whatsapp from family or a social media notification about something they absolutely have to see.
How does one stay focused, when there are so many ‘people’ that require attention?
Stressed to the max. While all these new communication channels solve many problems and facilitate so much, they also generate a certain amount of stress.
Most people were raised with certain manners or social etiquette – respond when spoken to, don’t raise your voice, call a person back if they leave you a message, etc.
The continuously changing world of communication also comes with a change in expectations and behaviors. Do I need to respond to every single Whatsapp message that reaches me? Do business emails require ‘please’ and ‘thank you’? Is it too late in the evening to remind a co-worker of a deadline? Why hasn’t this person responded? Why hasn’t that person liked my post?
All of these questions and expectations result in increased stress levels. They also often result in conflicts- tones of voice and faces are easy to read, but what about the tone of an email or a briefly worded instant message?
Do we just give up on new communication? Go back to the old ways of snail mail, telephone calls, and face to face meetings?
Not necessarily. I personally believe that we can reap all of the benefits of today’s communication channels, while minimizing the side effects – much like the best medicines on the market.
All it takes is a combination of technology, discipline, and educating others.
The technology: In my current company, we resolved some of the communication issues through iDenedi, a useful application designed for communication regulation. iDenedi is designed to allow members to decide how and when they want to be contacted through a simple status update and identifying which communication method they prefer.
Education & discipline: It is important to educate employees on modern communication etiquette. If you are part of an application like iDenedi, you need to respect statuses and communication preferences. This goes across the board – from employees to VPs. If an employee’s status is ‘With the family’ and their preference is to be contacted via SMS at the moment, then that’s how we reach them. Is it so vitally important to send them a Whatsapp message that needs to be answered within the hour?
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