Superman never made any money for saving the world from Solomon Grundy

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


So, I was watching a BBC video thingie tonight called Have millennials forgotten how to speak? I can't embed it, but check it out - it's short.

Now, the topic of how digital technology - texting, email, chat, &c. - affects communication has been addressed from many social and cultural perspectives. Since this video concerns itself with the take from the business angle, it immediately out me in mind of this commercial from 23 years ago:

The boss in that little playlet was concerned about phone calls and faxes instead of emails and chats, but the message seems to be the same as that from the BBC talking heads: technology can be a barrier to direct interpersonal communication and that is a loss to business as well as society.

The question I have is whether even can be said to be occurring. In the 23 years since (presumably) long-distance phone calls and faxes became ubiquitous enough a replacement for sales class that an airline could cast them as a villain in a commercial, what has happened in the business world? Are the successful companies those that maintain the personal touch, or those that have leveraged new communication technologies appropriately and productively?  Does it make a difference if we look at high-tech versus traditional industries, or service versus manufacturing? Do benefits of communication technology depend on whether the client base comprises digital natives?

I look at my own work experience, and I get what Shapiro, the PR guy, says in the video: most of my success has come from developing and maintaining philia, what my rhetoric professor defined as relationships of ongoing positive connectedness. At the same time, I know my productivity has only increased the more I have had access to communication technology.

True tale: In the first place I worked, an industry regulatory group, my phone would ring, and it would be an insurance professional asking a technical question about an account. I would put them on hold, call the file room, ask the file clerk for the file, light a cigarette, go back to the line, and chat until the file clerk showed up with the paper file in a folder. I met my first wife working this way, so I can vouch for the communicative aspect of the process, but it was certainly unwieldy and time-consuming compared to email and file-sharing.

I guess it just seems to be a more complex issue than "is the technology good or bad for us," or even "can anything replace the personal touch?" I think we need to be looking for a balance rather than at a tension of we're going to continue to be successful as workers and as humans.

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