Communication in the Internet Age

Communication in the Internet Age

The Internet connects us quickly and easily, more so than prior form of communication. Which makes me wonder; in a time when communication is so easy, why are we getting worse at it instead of better?

It makes me sound old, but most people didn’t have cell phones when I went to high school. We didn’t spend our afternoon classes trying to keep our phones hidden while we texted our friends. Some people didn’t even have computers or the Internet at home; handing in printed papers wasn’t even a regular practice until I hit high school. I recall my mother typing several writing assignments I handed in on middle school on an old-fashioned typewriter.

To kids today, it might sound as though I grew up in some foregone era, but it’s only been ten years since I graduated from high school. With the rate at which technology advances today, it can be difficult to keep up. My husband and I often laugh as we install games requiring 8 GB of hard drive space; my first computer only had a 4GB hard drive. In the days before video downloads, you didn’t need more.

But I digress. Considering how easy sites like Facebook and Twitter make communication, it’s surprising how little time and effort we put into the activity. That’s not to say people don’t use such sites; most people do. But we don’t seem to put much thought into what we’re posting, considering there are entire websites devoted to making fun of the idiotic things people say on the Internet.

In school, our teachers harped on the importance of proper punctuation, grammar and spelling. That hasn’t changed; I know more than one English teacher. But young people have a different attitude. We don’t need these skills any more, they claim, because our word processor will do all the hard work for us. It can spell. It can correct our grammar. Maybe that little paperclip guy can do all our homework for us!

But the truth is, good communication skills are more important than ever. Written communication has always been important in places of business, but even more so now that people use email to communicate on a daily basis. When I worked at the helpdesk, fully half my time was spent working on written communication, either in the form of emails to our users or tickets documenting issues for second level teams. The inability to express yourself efficiently through the written word can majorly inhibit your ability to succeed. Poor communication skills could cause you to miss a promotion or even miss out on a job opportunity.

It’s never a good idea to trust a piece of software to do the work of a human (despite our rampant desire to outsource and consolidate tasks for cheaper labor). Sure, Microsoft Word will highlight misspelled words in red, but it won’t catch words you spell correctly but put in the wrong place. The grammar check is often confused by words that sound the same but are spelled differently. And don’t even think about taking its advice on comma placement.

In the early days of the internet, even simple typographical errors sparked ridicule. Now we seem to accept even the most moronic shorthand as normal. Numbers take the place of words (I’m going 2 the store (*shudder*) or l8er!). The word ‘you’ disappears from some vocabularies to be replaced by “how are u today?” and “where are u going?” Some people seem to speak an entirely different language these days (web speak).

Where do these bad habits come from? I blame texting, though Twitter may also be at fault. Both offer a limited amount of space in which to get your message across. It’s easy to resort to shorthand than to re-think our message. Not to mention, shorthand is easier to pound out on your phone’s tiny keyboard, especially when you’re texting on the go. In fact, the more mobile our society becomes, the more texting conventions seep into other aspects of our lives. I’ve noticed people shortening words when they speak because they’re used to typing only half the word (and thus reading the word that way when they receive similar messages). My English teacher husband got a hearty glare the one time he used ‘obv’ (short for obviously) in the middle of a conversation with me.

But texting can’t be blamed for all of our poor communication skills. Some studies even suggest that allowing youngsters to send even poorly composed texts increases their rate of literacy (because it is, after all, written communication). Not to mention, people who never text (such as myself) sometimes resort to common web speak shorthand. I’m not ashamed to admit I went through such a phase myself in high school. When I learned how to type properly, however, I realized I wasn’t actually saving myself any time. (And doesn’t l8ter actually take more time to type than ‘later?) Not only that, I realized how impossible it is to take someone seriously, no matter how intelligent their argument, when it looks something like: LOL wut?! Ur such a idiot 2 believe in string thoery!

Spoiler; most people find chat speak even more exasperating than poorly punctuated communication.

On the flip-side, there are plenty of adults that grew up without computers. Many of them haveadapted to the change in technology, integrating into the internet age as well as any teenager. But there are just as many who avoid computers like the plague and stumble over modern communication because of it. Many are of the opinion that ‘computers are too hard to learn,’ for whatever reason, so they’re content to look silly rather than learning to type on a keyboard correctly.

The ability to string full words together into a coherent sentence seems to be a lost art, but anyone (and everyone) can learn to communicate intelligently on the internet for as little effort as half an hour a day (perhaps even less). There are numerous programs available to teach proper (home row key) typing. Not to mention the plethora of resources on basic grammatical rules.

Written communication skills are paramount given how we access communication and information via the web. Let’s not forget: the primary perception people have of you on the internet is your written communication. If you can’t communicate intelligently via text, you just plain aren’t communicating.

2 Replies to “Communication in the Internet Age”

  1. Okay, the proper typing bit makes me cringe, I must admit.
    I taught myself to type, learning on an old DOS-based computer… and I can type really fast, easily hitting 90+ words per minute when I get going, with great accuracy.
    But I type wrong. XD All wrong. My hand placement is all over the place, and what’s a left shift key, anyway?
    I hope I get a free pass for being able to spell.

    1. I’ll give you a free pass if you don’t have to look at the keyboard to type :p My brother-in-law has a two finger method of typing and he’s decently fast at it too. But he has to look for the keys on the keyboard. Silly as it may sound, that’s a major disadvantage, especially if you’re trying to type something that’s hand-written or copying something from another portion of the screen that can’t be copy/pasted. Incidentally it’s also one of the reasons I now have a keyboard that has no key labels on it (the keys are all blank). I was looking when I typed numbers and symbols and I wanted to force myself to learn them without being able to see them. Of course my laptop keyboard has labels if I get really stuck, but I don’t generally use it.

      Funny story, I used to work with a guy who got a huge kick out of the fact that I could keep typing without looking at either my screen or my keyboard. He’d come over to talk to me while I was typing out a ticket and I’d turn my head to look at him while I finished my sentence. He’d say “look at you!” and when I’d go over to his desk he’d get his fingers all ready on a word so he could look at me and type it. :) I miss him. He was great.

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