We live, I have been told, in a ‘communication saturated world’. With information immediately available at our fingertips; with email; facebook, twitter, mobile phones and access through them to the world wide web, it appears that we must be drowning in effective communication. But is it so?
These merely provide the means; it is us that provide the communication – and I still think that we can get it wrong.
Regardless of how immediate our thoughts can be conveyed via text messages; if our thought processes are disorganised, then our communication will be disorganised. The result of all this technology is that our disorganised thoughts can reach our friends much faster, and therefore we can confuse them quicker! I cannot think that this is a great step forward.
The one thing that can help us to communicate more effectively is the increased popularity of micro-blogging. With limited characters available we are forced to hone our ideas down to their basic concepts. Now, as a public speaker of some years, I have been allowed the luxury of being ‘verbose’. I have been able to paint beautiful words pictures to enhance my ideas. I can enlarge my concepts with anecdotes and quotations which inspire and convince. I have been allowed to take my time to build up to my desired climax which convinces my audience to commit to my message.
Alas, now I am on twitter such luxury is denied me. I have to learn a new way of communicating which takes into consideration the limitations I face. This is not a bad thing. It can make me take a hard look at precisely what it is I need to say; and then to phrase it carefully to achieve the aim. In short, it is teaching me to be much more succinct.
One of the problems in communication is not being able to get to the point. Not being able to focus on what is needed to be said. Disappearing down the ‘on the other hand’ concepts; or exploring the ‘that reminds me of…’ pathways. These side tracks are fabulous in conversation but not effective in formal communication. Twitter is not amenable to conversation I have found.
So being succinct in formulating our ideas is not a bad thing. So what other lessons can the ‘information age’ offer us.
I find that I have to choose my words carefully. I need to select the precise word to convey my meaning accurately. In doing so, I have become much more aware of the multitude of words in English that mean very nearly the same thing. “Exactly’ is almost the same as ‘precisely’ – almost but not quite. Some people will chose a word that seems like it means the same thing but… How would we interpret the difference between ‘confidential’ or ‘private’? If we think about it carefully, if someone said they wished to speak to us ‘privately’ would that be the same thing as speaking to us ‘confidentially’?
The difference is subtle, but it could have a profound impact if we misinterpreted the meaning of ‘confidentially’.
Finally, I have realised that while electronic communication allows us immediate transference of ideas it does not allow us to have immediate feedback of the way those ideas are received. I cannot tell by watching your face if you have received my ideas warmly, or quizzically or even if you are hostile to them. Without the visual support of a smile, or a wink, slightly satirically expressions can be easily misinterpreted and offence can be taken where none was intended.
Without having the immediacy of the person I am addressing in front of me, I may go further than I intended. There is danger in solitary communication. And I have learned to be circumspect.
So while I still have the luxury of personal communication, with its immediate feedback, I must admit that the use of the electronic medium has been able to reconfirm that learning about communication can be a lifetime activity.
I wonder what the next decade can teach me.