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Are communications technologies destroying communication skills?

By maleficent in Technology
Fri Apr 06, 2001 at 09:45:47 PM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)

Think about it. Since you started using email, do you verbally communicate in a technical manner nearly as often? With the advent of instant messaging and cellular phones, have you denegrated further into the use of slang and vocal shorthand? I have, and it's quite distressing.

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comments (24)
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First of all, let me be clear: I understand that modern English is an evolving language and that the internet age is perhaps bringing along a new phase in its evolution. Unfortunately, I think that the evolution (in spoken language, at least) is damaging to our ability as individuals to communicate ideas effectively in a verbal manner.

Prior to the advent of email in my life, I conducted most of my day-to-day technical communication in a verbal format. It was a consistent exercise in the ability to think on my feet and exchange ideas in a technical fashion in a verbal manner; the ability to stroll down the hall and communicate with a co-worker on a technical topic was the primary means for most day-to-day exchange of information.

In the past five years, however, this face-to-face exchange of ideas has quickly gone downhill, replaced by the use of email. Now, rather than getting out of my chair and strolling down the hall to ask a coworker about his coding, I often use email, as it avoids the effort of leaving my desk and breaking my train of thought. This is an advantage, but it brings a significant drawback.

It's clear in recent verbal communication on technical topics that I'm not up to my old snuff in thinking on my feet and exchanging technical ideas, and it's clear that I am not alone on this. People are simply losing the ability to communicate in a clear and effective manner and the cause seems to be the efficiency of email.

Cellular phones and instant messaging are both contributing to the problem, I believe. Both make instantaneous communication much easier, but the pressing needs of this communication forum is resulting in the breakdown of cohesive and well thought out sentences and discussion elements.

When was the last time you had an ICQ discussion that was conducted in complete sentences or even in complete thoughts? You might think that it was quite recently, but I encourage you to take a second and read through your logs. I was appalled at my logs; I couldn't believe that so much thought was missing; that so much logical structure was absent.

Are we losing the ability to communicate effectively because of the recent increases in speed and convenience of communication? I really believe so, and here's why.

The biggest reason is that these forums are so intrusive and so speedy that we often don't have the time to articulate a clear and well-thought response to a query or a comment. We communicate just enough to get the message across or make the problem go away rather than really answering the question.

Another reason is cut-and-paste. Why do I need to logically explain my code when I can cut and paste it into my email and maybe add in a comment or two? I don't have to rationalize it or explain it anymore, I just have to dish it off onto someone else. The same goes for a technical solution to any problem; it's often easier to spew a stock answer and send that off than it is to investigate the problem and articulate a specific solution.

A final reason is the reduction in the use of the spoken word in the technical community overall. I simply don't speak as much as I used to. It's not something that's noticeable on a daily basis, but it really adds up and when you reflect on it, it becomes much clearer. I spend hours coding in silence in front of my box, just coding, responding to emails, making web postings, answering ICQ messages, and so forth. Before the invasiveness of the internet, I spoke more directly to other people; I didn't have these technologies to replace it.

What can we do to fix these problems? I don't know if there is a real solution, other than putting more care into articulating everything one writes and says. The convenience of the internet and communications technologies makes it so easy to slack off in terms of putting effort into effective technical communication that we can't help but unconsciously become prey to it. Perhaps the only way to combat it is to be aware of the problem and simply put more effort into articulation and communication of ideas.


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Are you as effective of a communicator as you were five years ago
o Yes 61%
o No 10%
o Maybe 4%
o Probably 8%
o I didn't know how to speak five years ago 5%
o I am a three year old child prodigy 11%

Votes: 136
Results | Other Polls

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o Also by maleficent

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Are communications technologies destroying communication skills? | 102 comments (45 topical, 57 editorial, 0 hidden)
Just a phase (4.33 / 6) (#1)
by mbrubeck on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 12:56:23 PM EST

When the telephone was invented, it signaled a dramatic decline in the importance of letters and telegrams. People mourned the lost art of writing. E-mail hasn't killed the telephone, and telecommunications is still largely in an unprecedented age of voice-to-voice conversation.

Meanwhile, everyone running an instant messaging network is trying like hell to figure out how to use their systems to phase in Voice-over-IP. Pretty soon MSN and AOL will become the new improved telephone, and we will again read rants about how technology is making us illiterate.

telephone : republic of letters (none / 0) (#2)
by buridan on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 12:59:48 PM EST

one thing that arose with the decline of letters, was the rise of a moment of resistance and the creation of the "republic of letters", which was the rebirth something that happened in the intellectual tradition of the west much in the 17th century. It was mainly a bunch of intellectuals attempting to maintain a tradition of communication and using that tradition to further their own goals. The question of course, is whether such a movemtn will happen now and what would it look like? I posit that one thing that is somewhat like this movement are the discussion system like we are using here on the net, which encourage construction of reasoned argument.

[ Parent ]
Loss of need to explain things? (none / 0) (#3)
by maleficent on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 01:03:02 PM EST

How are my communication skills not rusting if, rather than explaining the algorithm or chunk of code I'm writing, I just simply pop it into an email and send it off to its destination?

Internet communication technologies have the same disadvantages as speech (instantaneous need for technical commentary) and the same disadvantages of the written word (the page is able to hide the author from the reader, making communication skills and politeness less important). Add them together and communications problems are cropping up everywhere.


[ Parent ]
Your own fault (5.00 / 3) (#7)
by mbrubeck on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 01:51:13 PM EST

How are my communication skills not rusting if, rather than explaining the algorithm or chunk of code I'm writing, I just simply pop it into an email and send it off to its destination?
I think you should blame your own laziness for this, not the communications medium. Sure there are disadvantages to any given method of communicating, but there are also advantages. E-mail is a great way to discuss code. The ability to cut and paste directly between mail and source code is an incredibly useful tool, to say nothing of other advantages like easy editing, archival, quoting, forwarding, searching, and mass distribution.

But these tools have to be applied properly. Problems like yours arise when people don't take the time to think about how best to use the available tools at hand. The problem is not the medium; it is that people are too lazy to use the medium effectively. The advantages don't come for free, and avoiding the disadvantages also requires thought and effort.

Yes, it's bad if you just paste raw material and send it without commentary. Is the solution to take away the capability to paste? No, the solution is for you to stop treating it as a panacea and to start using it as a tool -- one tool among many, the most important being your own common sense.

[ Parent ]

Occam's Razor (1.00 / 1) (#9)
by maleficent on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 02:34:39 PM EST

Given a choice, the simplest one proves often to be the correct one, right? It's much easier to cut-and-paste than it is to write effective explanations, so often individuals choose to cut-and-paste.

People will take the simple route to solve their problem, even if it's not necessarily an optimal solution.


[ Parent ]
Poor choices are not technology's fault. (5.00 / 3) (#46)
by mbrubeck on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 01:05:55 AM EST

William of Ockham said that when judging explanations of natural phenomena, one should prefer the simplest explanation that suffices. (To be more precise, he really said that one should not introduce new elements to a theory if they do not change the theory's predictions.) His Principle of Scientific Parsimony makes a judgement between two equally effective scientific theories.

You may apply similar reasoning to personal choices ("the simplest one proves often to be correct"), but that is not Occam's Razor and I see litle justification for it. Even if it is true, I don't see how it can apply when the two choices are not equally effective. In your example, you are given two ways to communicate a problem to someone, and you choose one that is obviously less useful. This is not Occam's razor; it is simply a bad decision.

Technology gives you an easy but ineffectual option. You choose that option, and blame the technology. Well, I blame you.

Why? Because other people using the same technology do not have the same issues. I subscribe to a dozen mailing lists related to software development, and regularly correspond with hundreds of people who have no problem communicating by e-mail. If you find yourself or those around you using such ineffective methods as sending raw code back and forth with no explanation, I humbly suggest that you stop doing that! Personally I have never seen such a thing, and it would surprise me if I did.

Do you honestly think that these people would communicate better without electronic media? If they don't recognize poor communication in written language, why would they fare better in speech? It's possible to communicate badly over any medium. If there are obvious steps to correct these miscommunications, then the medium is not to blame.

[ Parent ]

You blame me for the bad writing of others? (3.00 / 2) (#52)
by maleficent on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 11:24:51 AM EST

I think that the technology is useful, but I think people are misusing it. There are obvious steps to correct it, but these steps aren't simple. Thus, since it's not the simplest way, most people will not bother to correct it when the general meaning gets through with less effort.

I subscribe to several web-dev lists and it's clear which members of the list strive for quality and which ones merely fire out the first thought in their head without trying to discuss the matter. If the medium didn't allow this kind of rapid fire response, I wouldn't have emails in my inbox that are nigh indecipherable from supposedly professional people.

In fact, the instigation for this article was a few emails I received on mailing lists for web development professionals; they sounded barely literate.

[ Parent ]
Exact same problem without e-mail (4.00 / 2) (#53)
by mbrubeck on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 11:55:17 AM EST

If they'll write an e-mail before formulating a thought, they'll bring a complaint in person without formulating a thought. Look, I've seen it happen. The few people who spew random e-mail at me are most often the ones who come to my door with incoherent complaints.

The technical jobs I worked without e-mail had no higher level of discourse than I see today. In speech as in writing, some people just don't bother to think before talking.

In another thread you write, "Rather than thinking about it and formulating an intelligent statement, they e-mail," as if the two were mutually exclusive. Obviously, they are not. That's a, whatchamacallit, false dichotomy. You can have intelligent statements and e-mail at the same time -- and believe me, unintelligent babbling predates the internet by a long shot.

[ Parent ]

Different tools for different problems... (2.66 / 3) (#4)
by daystar on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 01:29:50 PM EST

I think that email is BETTER for discussing code, and you stumble when forced to use a clearly inferior technology to communicate. Most code discussions veer off in a number of threads, and it's difficult to keep track of them all. In email, you can group questions and responses so that things don't get forgotten.

Of course, speech is great for a lot of other things, just not nessesarily for discussing code. Code has too much punctuation. Pronouncing any of these :: -> () {} [] is just too unweildy.

There is no God, and I am his prophet.

Teaching verbal communication in school (3.00 / 5) (#5)
by mbrubeck on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 01:33:48 PM EST

I think that schools could do a lot to improve their students' verbal communication skills. It's impossible to graduate from a competitive four-year college without being able to write a passable essay, but it is easy to do so without basic speaking and presentation skills. This one-sided emphasis is totally disconnected from the skills students will actually need outside of school. The only reason for the imbalance is that it has always existed at most schools, and changing it would be difficult and risky.

I go to a small technical college. In four years, a typical student takes about three or four classes that require any real speaking. Standards for spoken presentations are far lower than they are for written work. Oral presentations are seen as ordeals for students to pass through, rather than a chance to learn and improve important communications skills.

So students at schools like mine never practice spoken communication, because they are not given the opportunity or motivation to do so. For those who don't learn these skills elsewhere, the best they can hope for is a job like yours, where they can hide behind electronic mail. The way to help these students is to give speaking and face-to-face communication the same status in the curriculum as essay-writing. Hire professors who can teach students how to speak and present effectively. Stop graduating students who can support a thesis on paper but can't form complete sentences out loud.

Not at all... (3.66 / 6) (#13)
by DeadBaby on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 03:38:03 PM EST

I think he premise of this article VERY flawed. You listed an example of getting programming advice. I can't think of a better place to use e-mail, not only can you structure your thoughts in a more logical manner (verbal code examples just don't cut it) but you also have a document you can archive for later use.

Is e-mail making it harder to communicate verbally? For me, it's the exact opposite. Getting my thoughts down in print allows me to communicate my thoughts verbally in more organized statements. It also allows me to think on my feet far better. (Years of IRC can make your mind move very quickly)

P.S: If I see someone saying "r" or "u" I instantly think of them as a babbling moron. If this is what you mean, I agree fully.

"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." - Carl Sagan
"r" and "u" are exactly what I (none / 0) (#16)
by maleficent on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 04:08:50 PM EST

I'm also referring to pasting a chunk of code without bothering to consider how to explain it. I'm referring to end users with native English abilities who email me with comments like "I clicked the link and the browser disappeared. Can you fix it?" That's not technical communication, that's tripe.

Rather than thinking about it and formulating an intelligent statement, they e-mail. A stroll down the hall and a question and answer session would work; so would a carefully considered report. Internet communication technologies make both of these seem to take too much effort, so the logic in the thought process disappears along with them.

[ Parent ]
Not exclusively e-mail... (none / 0) (#99)
by Carik on Tue Apr 10, 2001 at 09:04:02 AM EST

I'm referring to end users with native English abilities who email me with comments like "I clicked the link and the browser disappeared. Can you fix it?" That's not technical communication, that's tripe.

True. However - I worked as a sys-admin/tech-support guy for a small company for about 6 months (until the company was shut down). In that time, about three quarters of the complaints I recieved were not "technical communication," and very few of them were via email. A few examples:

  • My computer broke. help!
  • The thing isn't working... can you fix it?
  • I can't print - do you know what's wrong?
Most of these were uttered by one person, who was terrible with any higher technology than a chair. But on the other hand, I've been asked similar things by, for instance, an english major, who presumably ought to be capable of coherent speach. And even before everybody I knew had email, there were certainly a lot of people around incapable of speaking clearly and coherently. Also - not every end user will be good with computers, and they may not know the correct terminology. I don't know who you're referring to, but is it possibly they don't know the terms to describe the problem more clearly? And is it really any harder to send back a request for clarification via email than by voice?

Oh, and about ICQ? I don't think I've ever had a conversation in ICQ that wasn't made up of complete sentences and/or thoughts. I think that might be more of an issue with the people you're talking to than ICQ itself.


[ Parent ]
full sentaces (3.42 / 7) (#14)
by delmoi on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 03:38:34 PM EST

When was the last time you had an ICQ discussion that was conducted in complete sentences or even in complete thoughts?

Well, ICQ is the living shit. So I don't use it, on AIM however I almost always use complete sentences when I type. Most of the people I talk to do as well. Not all of them, though, but I don't usually pay much attention to those people.
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
Right on! (2.66 / 6) (#17)
by davidduncanscott on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 04:11:57 PM EST

Why do I need to logically explain my code when I can cut and paste it into my email and maybe add in a comment or two?
Damn straight! Real Programmers don't need comments -- the code is self-explanatory. :)

What if you're not at your desk? (2.00 / 1) (#19)
by maleficent on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 04:20:43 PM EST

If someone questions your code when you're away from your desk, how do you respond? There are a number of people who can whip up a solid technical response with no preparation and no source, but many people don't fall into that category and thus they quickly descend into techno-babble.

I think the prevalence of internet communications is the biggest reason for this. It has been in my experience.

[ Parent ]
How do I respond... (4.50 / 2) (#27)
by davidduncanscott on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 06:22:27 PM EST

...if someone questions my code? MY code?

If he is of good birth, this fool who dares to question my code, than of course we fight as soon as possible and I kill him. If he is a peasant, and I am not overly fatigued, than I may dispose of him myself, but often I leave him for my servant.

There are certain things, Monsieur, that a gentleman cannot allow to be questioned.

[ Parent ]

efficiency (3.83 / 6) (#18)
by Seumas on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 04:17:21 PM EST

I conduct most of my business (correspondance with Solaris, HPUX, AIX, Linux and NT administrators running our mail, news, LDAP or calendar servers) via email. Being able to type between 80 and 100 words per minute (depending on the day and sleep level) coupled with the succinct nature of the writtenword makes it far more efficient than a phone conversation. If I conduct my business through email, both parties retain a written copy for future reference should the problem occur again and it makes walking through the progress of an issue (let's say we can't for the life of us figure out why their mail server is crashing when a particular email message is sent and an autoreply is generated).

Further, there's nothing worse than solving someone's problem only to be ambushed with another dozen questions that are unrelated to the current business at hand. Especially when all the person has to do is RTFM. If I had to conduct most of my business over the phone (instead of just dealing with those who insist on the phone), I would probably only be 25 percent as efficient as I am now and there would be a lot of people waiting for me to solve problems with their deployments. There are only a few hours in a day and if you can turn a half-hour phone call into a three minute email, you should absolutely do it.

Unfortunately, this has crossed over to other aspects of my life. I'd rather deal with human resources, IS/IT, my tax advisor, attorney and everyone else through email when possible -- other than friends and family. I'm not really sure if there's anything wrong with that though . . . I mean, who enjoys doing those things? If you can reduce the amount of time you have to spend on them, it can't be a bad thing.
I just read K5 for the articles.

It keeps me employed (4.16 / 6) (#49)
by gregholmes on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 06:22:54 AM EST

That's why you can make good money writing something as simple as step-by-step instructions. For whatever reason, hardly anyone can (although many think they can).

Not on my planet. (3.75 / 4) (#56)
by marlowe on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 01:38:45 PM EST

I don't see any reduction in the quality of face-to-face discussion in my own life. The quantity is down, but that's hardly a problem in and of itself. After all, email has reduced the need.

Online discussions do tend to be stupid, but no more so than offline discussions ever were. It all depends on who you're having the discussion with, not the medium.

Email is a great form of communication. It's fast, it's efficient, and it increases accountability by reducing plausible deniability. It simply works.

-- The Americans are the Jews of the 21st century. Only we won't go as quietly to the gas chambers. --
Yes (4.20 / 10) (#58)
by codemonkey_uk on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 01:50:25 PM EST

And your calculator is ruining your maths skills.

And your organiser is ruining your memory skills.

And your TV is ruining your imagination.

Anything else?
"The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way." - Bertrand Russell

Augmented Mind (4.00 / 1) (#62)
by Cyberrunner on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 05:08:43 PM EST

And your augmented mind is ruining your thinking skills.

[ Parent ]
Maths skill (slightly OT) (4.00 / 1) (#89)
by Cameleon on Sat Apr 07, 2001 at 06:16:58 AM EST

You probably didn't mean it, but I think you are at least partially right.

I tutor some highschool students, and since they all have calculators, they never do any calculations themselves. So, when they have to calculate 24 - 8, they grab a calculator. Now, is this bad? Some will say no. I think it is, because not only do you not always have a calculator available, it also takes away the practice needed to develop your mathematical insight.

I think it would be great, although a bit hard, to do a real scientific study on the subject, comparing the math skills of students who have studies primarily with and without a calculator. Anyone know of such a study?

[ Parent ]
Calculators (none / 0) (#91)
by Muzzafarath on Sat Apr 07, 2001 at 02:12:44 PM EST

I noticed this on myself a couple of months ago. I had studied with a calculator, and then I had a maths test that had to be done without a calculator. While I didn't fail the test, I didn't excactly get a good grade on it. I did another test later on, with a calculator, only 2 mistakes... I don't study with a calculator anymore, and while is sure is boring at times, it's certainly more effective...

[ Parent ]
Calculatorless (none / 0) (#100)
by Elendur on Fri Apr 13, 2001 at 04:21:21 AM EST

In the last two quarters of math, which for me has been sequences and series, and multivariable calculus, I've tried to use my calculator as little as possible. I don't even get it out most days. I've not only found that I can do simple calculations in my head more easily, but that I end up with a better understanding of concepts and I can do math more quickly even when I am using a calculator.

[ Parent ]
Mmkay. (4.30 / 10) (#59)
by Kugyou on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 02:18:17 PM EST

I'ma hafta disagree with U on svl pnts. 1st, lemme say that my talking skilz are just fine. What 1 prsn uses whn tpng hurried msgs to sum1 else != other_skilz.

Ahem.In other words, when I use ICQ/AIM/IRC, yeah, maybe I use a few abbreviations, a few slang/jargon phrases, a few concatenations, some shortcuts. Then again, let me reiterate that most of those media are used for Instant Messages. Speed and convenience? Yes. Debilitating our communication skills? Not in the least. You cite 'cut-and-paste' as somehow being horrible. How? If I ship my ~10K lines of TCL/TK code to my boss, and he doesn't understand them as if he were reading English, I would still have to justify them. In the case of cut-n-paste code-shipping, however, at least he has a visible model to work from. And maybe I can add some color commentary that isn't in the code's documentation. I fail to see how being able to send a hundred lines of code with the comment 'This breaks RC5 in a day' or whatnot, with some comments for clarification, somehow means that you are unable to 'communicate'. Given that situation, how would you propose a face-to-face exchange of that code? Hand someone a printout and hold a line-by-line code review? Read them the code a la the dramatic reading of DeCSS? Maybe just verbalize the functions in plain English? You have a lot to learn about the differences between speaking and communication - and maybe you *should* listen to EM (EM: I still don't agree with you about AAVE, but I'm not an academic linguistics person).

When was the last time you went out on a date? No, this is not an insult, it's a lead-in. Take the general 'you' here. Did you sit beside your date and 'text' them on your cell phone? Did you Ricochet onto DALNet and "/me slips his arm around you"? No, you interacted with that other person in 'meatspace', and you probably did just fine. Did you, at the end of the date, say "L8R"/"C-YA"/"TTFN" (spelling it out, of course)? Maybe as a joke (my friends and I can communicate in acronyms and inside jokes for hours), but the question here is if you seriously have broken down your realspace communications for technology. How about your technical communications? You end a corporate fax with 'Kthxbye'? Most likely not, if you value your job. Please, enlighten me - how does efficiency stifle propriety? I would love to know.


Dust in the wind bores holes in mountains
eww (none / 0) (#96)
by Locus27 on Mon Apr 09, 2001 at 02:10:51 PM EST

dalnet... i feel icky

"You're one fucked up cookie."
-Shawn R. Fitzgerald

[ Parent ]

missing poll option (4.42 / 7) (#63)
by iGrrrl on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 05:39:34 PM EST

I will try to be concise.

Writing on the net, be it weblog or listserve, as done nothing but improve my communication skills. Text-only removes face to face enhancements to communication like body language and the ability to change tactics if the current thread brings only blank stares. I have one shot to make my point in this sort of format.

As has been pointed out, verbal shorthands within specific communications technologies existed long before the internet. If you can find any WWII Morse Code operators, they'll probably confirm this.

Looking at the above, I think I accomplished my goal of making my point. Had I written this five years ago it would have been twice as long and not been as effective, but you did not give me a chance to reflect this in your poll.

You cannot have a reasonable conversation with someone who regards other people as toys to be played with. localroger
remove apostrophe for email.

Hmmmm it has helped me (none / 0) (#75)
by cable on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 02:19:13 PM EST

I am usually shy and don't socialize with people much. Having a text only conversation has not only improved my communication skills, but also has taught me many spelling and grammar lessons. :) Strangers out of nowhere begain correcting what I typed, and reviewing what I typed and letting me have it with both barrels on criticism. :)

When I first got into using BBSes, I typed about 4K sized posts and over. This upset a lot of people, and I since tried to keep it under 2K. Then sometimes under 1K. I found that people lost interest in my posts if I kept them very long. Yet if I kept them very short and concise, not everyone would understand what I was talking about.

Some people post in shorthand. Who doesn't know what "BRB" or "BTW" or "WTF" or "RTFM" means, right? Or "ROTFLMAOPIMP" means? :)

Of course the Grammar Police (PC term for Grammar Nazis) will pick my posts to pieces anyway. So what does it matter what I post?

Only you, can help prevent Neb Rage!
[ Parent ]

Everybody is multi-lingual, hooray! (4.40 / 5) (#70)
by itsbruce on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 07:42:10 AM EST

Human communication is incredibly sensitive to context and we are all more than capable of adapting to the current context. We usually do it seamlessly and with no conscious effort.

An example: I grew up in a part of Scotland where the local dialect ("Doric") is hard even for other Scots to follow. Like any other child from that area, I grew up hearing one kind of language around me and quite another on the TV and Radio. And like anybody from such an area, I grew up able to judge the Doric comprehension skills of any interlocutor (are they local, a fellow Scot, English, from outside the UK?) and moderate my language accordingly. (Although sometimes a conscious decision is made not to be comprehensible;))

More impressively (and more relevantly), any of my literate compatriots are quite capable of instaneously translating between spoken Doric and standard written English. Called upon to write down something they had just said, they would write it in standard English (phonetically-spelt Scots is usually seen as an affectation). Asked to read it back, they'd give you the Doric version, more or less.

So no, Maleficient, I don't agree with you at all. People aren't becoming less literate or losing communication skills: they're learning new skills appropriate to new methods of communication skills and using those skills in context. I haven't heard any internet abbreviations (iirc, ianal, bicbw) being used in spoken communication (I'd notice people saying "ianal") or seen them in print and I don't think I will, for the reasons given above.

Not only are people not being impoverished by the new communications media, they are actually being enriched. Just as the presence of accents and dialects in a language enriches the parent culture, the more a person extends and adds diversity to their communication skills the more their intelligence and experience will be enhanced.

This isn't a problem, it's something to celebrate. I fear that your desire to "fix" it has its roots in the same misunderstandings that led misguided teachers to hang mocking signs round the necks of schoolchildren who persisted in speaking their native Welsh language.


It is impolite to tell a man who is carrying you on his shoulders that his head smells.
The "language gap" (none / 0) (#71)
by maleficent on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 11:23:34 AM EST

Did you learn Doric/English during the "language gap" that occurred between the ages of two and eight, when the human mind is most capable of learning languages?

Most internet users don't begin to use the internet until long after this age frame.

People intentionally moving to modes of communication that drop pieces of the thought they are trying to communicate are not communicating as well as they could have.

[ Parent ]
Ack! (4.50 / 4) (#72)
by jabber on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 01:08:44 PM EST

You know, you're on to something here. Ever since the invention of movable type, compounded by the invention of the typewriter and finally, the word processor, I have observed a significant decline in the popularity of calligraphy and the art of the Illuminated Manuscript. Oh, how humanity has suffered at the hands of cruel technology..

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

Traveling Minstrels, (4.00 / 1) (#76)
by Komodo321 on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 02:52:16 PM EST

roving news-mongers and vagabond storytellers are also endangered species, and we are clearly the worse for it. This technology is destroying our very souls.

[ Parent ]
No to mention (4.00 / 1) (#77)
by jabber on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 04:58:55 PM EST

Fire-side tales told by grandparents are a thing of the past.

So are tales of remarkable days, drawn on the walls of our dwellings with charred sticks - the way God intended.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

Calligraphy (none / 0) (#90)
by rasilon on Sat Apr 07, 2001 at 09:03:24 AM EST

While illuminations now form a far smaller percentage of the total reading material, modern printing processes have allowed the ability to read to spread to far more people. This spread has encouraged the spread of old writing styles and there are now more people doing calligraphy and occasionally creating illuminated manuscripts. Thus the spread of technology has helped the art. Speaking of which, I must find a source for gold leaf in London...

[ Parent ]
Destroying? No... Changing? Certainly! (none / 0) (#74)
by fossilcode on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 02:02:51 PM EST

Your point about reduced face-to-face interaction is spot on, but I think some of your other premises are otherwise a bit flawed. I would agree that when you spend more time responding in writing to written requests, that your brain gets accustomed to the luxury of being able to slow down and consider the request. The "half-duplex" nature of the communication allows your brain to focus on a single task.

Now, one of the biggest problems I used to run into before the advent of email and other electronic, print-oriented message schemes was that of inarticulate writing. I had managers 10 years my senior that could NOT write a coherent memo. (Okay, even with email it's still a problem.) If anything, the resurgence of written communication is forcing people to hone their writing skills, because you can't compensate for poorly presented ideas with arm-waving when your only medium is the printed word.

Does the use of jargon and abbreviations in an instant messaging system really destroy effective communication? Did the presence of cryptic signs such as "CQ" destroy the effectiveness of ham radio when most operators were still using Morse code? No, it allowed the messaging to be more efficient, just as it does in IRC, ICQ and the like.

Maybe your ability to think on your feet is becoming impaired. You still have a telephone, and you could use it instead of a print alternative. I had an associate in another city with whom I exchanged a lot of email. But I still just had to use the phone, or I would have missed out on her absolutely delightful accent.

"...half the world blows and half the world sucks." Uh, which half were you again?
Poll gripe (3.66 / 3) (#82)
by ksandstr on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 05:18:04 AM EST

I'm much better at communicating with people than I was five years ago.

Foreign Language (4.00 / 1) (#92)
by Cameleon on Sat Apr 07, 2001 at 05:20:51 PM EST

I am dutch, and have noticed what I think is a possible effect of being online a lot on my verbal communications.

Most, if not all, of my online communication is in english. My english is not bad, and getting better because I spend so much time reading sites like this one, where people actually know more than 25 words. What I have noticed, is that when I talk to people (in dutch), I often have trouble finding the exact word I want. I can often find a word that roughly describes what I want to say, but only an english word that conveys the exact meaning.

Another thing: a lot of comments seem to say that the author is incorrect, and that communication skills are not degrading. However, it seems that somehow they are. My mother, who is a teacher, sees the spelling and grammar skills of her students go steadily down over the years. I'm not saying that this is due to them being online a lot. In fact, I have no idea why this is. But the effect is there.

Degrading Skills (none / 0) (#93)
by Sanfam on Sat Apr 07, 2001 at 09:24:09 PM EST

Well, I work on a magazine (An End to Intolerance, Check it out!) along with an english teacher. One day, I brought up the topic of Internet Slang, and what she told me was shocking: In a project students handed in the week earlier, at least three of the papers (of a 20 student class) contained large amounts of internet slang and acronyms. This is a tenth grade class composed primarily of fifteen year olds. They are the internet generation, and will decide much of what comes after them. If three people do it, it is bad enough already. While it may be evolution, it is damn irritating and is generally lazy on the part of the student. Typing an additional two letters to make "you" is not a hard thing to do. I myself am a sixteen year old geek, but have not been taken in by this, and in Valen's name, I won't. Now, the point where this whole discussion becomes a problem is when it migrates to real, tangible life. That is exactly the case that has appeared in my example. I'll let you all discuss my message now.

--Andrew "Sanfam" Sanjanwala, the resident Sanfamite

P.S.: If this message is a tad incoherent, try not consuming anything with caffine for two days! ;)

[ Parent ]
I see it as well (none / 0) (#95)
by krissyboy on Mon Apr 09, 2001 at 07:41:40 AM EST

As Dutch is my native language I have to second your opinion. Language skills of youngsters are degrading I'm afraid. The so well known DT rules get mixed up too much by young people.
I myself am more strict on this, however the amount of English I use in day to day life is high. Cerntainly programming and computer related terms, and the usual amounts of cool and dude like stuff. Even more so, I do not believe in translating them like the French do, "un ordinateur" for a computer just makes me laugh... And although my Dutch uses lots of English etc I can create better sounding documents in Dutch just because it's my mother tongue and I like it. I know the difference between "noemen" and "heten" for instance, and to be frank in a company of about 20 people am I the only one who uses them correctly by the way... My colleagues are 50 % older and 50% younger than me,: I am 24 for the moment. So it's not just a youth problem, although they might use more English than your average 65 year old.

[ Parent ]
Nah (none / 0) (#94)
by wakazashi on Sun Apr 08, 2001 at 03:11:21 PM EST

People aren't getting worse at communicating. More people are communicating in public forums who were never any good at it in the first place.

verbal communication (4.00 / 2) (#97)
by Locus27 on Mon Apr 09, 2001 at 02:25:11 PM EST

appearantly i'm one of the few k5 readers out there that isn't a coder. unfortunately, chemistry often doesn't translate well to type, especially when you're working with hundred molecule long polymer chains. the issue here, i suppose, is the appearant downfall of the spoken english language, so aptly demonstrated by a recent foxtrot cartoon. if you've seen it, you know the one i mean. as far as i know, and as far as my personal communications take me, i have noticed a rather distrubing trend towards shortening words to their bare essentials, and it annoys the piss out of me. sure, every now and then i'll slaughter a word, like 'aight', but taking words down to a single letter is just annoying. eg: 'i c', 'r u' verbally, and with real human interaction, this doesn't fly. ircing and im'ing has helped me with the ability to multitask, and carry on several conversations at once, which is handy when i'm trying to draw something on a whiteboard and talk at the same time, and if anything, it's reinforced my ability to type entire sentences quickly. granted, i don't use capitals when i type in something informal such as this, but i ask you this, do you speak in capitals? do you think in capitals? i don't.

this decay in communication skills will eventually lead to a nice little seperation of classes. those who can speak like they actually had an education, and those who most often utter the phrase "joo want fries wit dat?" if the human language is evolving, are we sure it's evolving in a good way? maybe this is a form of natural selection at work. maybe i'm hittin the crack pipe a bit too hard.

"You're one fucked up cookie."
-Shawn R. Fitzgerald

How much of that do you see on this forum? (none / 0) (#98)
by jordanb on Mon Apr 09, 2001 at 10:18:56 PM EST

Or even on slashdot for that matter, or on most high brow Usenet groups? Phonetic spelling isn't even accepted in the IRC channels which I frequent. You're expected to know how to type, and give spelling the old college try.

The people who are content to massacre the language in thier online communique are the same people who massacre it in the Real World, and in their spoken language. The rest of us will continue to attempt to be as coherent as possible.

Jordan Bettis
[ Parent ]
Capitalization (none / 0) (#101)
by Derek Moeller on Sat Apr 14, 2001 at 02:40:34 PM EST

What is it with people who refuse to use simple capitalization of words when they type? To me, the use of capitalization greatly enhances readability, and I subconciously view those who refuse to as slightly illiterate. Not that that feeling is true, it's just a subconcious judgment. I am certainly not the only one who takes issue with people who feel it's acceptable to butcher the English language (or many others) by forgetting they have a very nice shift key available to them.

You rail against a declining proficiency in the English language, yet you are only capable of expressing that feeling in such a way that makes my eyes hurt. It's a little like those people who don't understand the concept of "paragraphs," thinking that a huge block of unformatted text is particularly kind to a human eye. A large block of text with no capitals is more difficult for me to read, and I tend to give the author's ideas less credit for no other reason but that they cannot express themselves in a remotely similar way to the language they profess to be writing.

Your loss, I suppose.
-- Derek Moeller
[ Parent ]

Capital Letters (none / 0) (#102)
by twl on Sun Apr 15, 2001 at 09:54:08 AM EST

are nasty, Teutonic things. the Romans (oooh, it's called 'Latin' text, isn't it?) had it right: only capitalise proper nouns.

readability of lower-case letters is also significantly better; text flows better without the archaic intrusion of 'capital' letters.

if you have difficulty perceiving a full stop without the assistance of a capital letter, i suggest you consult an ophthalmologist. moreover, using a capital letter as a cue for the beginning of a sentence is stupid, given the number of false positives (especially in love-it-or-leave-it land, Home Of Ridiculous Overcapitalisation).

[ Parent ]
Are communications technologies destroying communication skills? | 102 comments (45 topical, 57 editorial, 0 hidden)
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