Computer Mediated Communication
Texting, Facebooking and twittering
Growing up in a generation dominated by social networks such as facebook, twitter or pinterest, people are getting used to communicating via technologies rather than talking to each other in person. Especially in today´s globalized world, this is an essential improvement, allowing people to communicate around the world, across all borders. However, when kids start texting each other while sitting together in class, one starts wondering where this is going to lead us in the future. As Anthony West argues in his blog post about distraction of technology, many students are overwhelmed by all the opportunities technology has opened up to them.
Computer Mediated Communication
Instead of meeting to discuss on topics, group assignments are discussed in facebook or google groups, surely allowing for several advantages, including that everything discussed is documented on the web, accessible for anyone related to the discussion. Among experts this issue is referred to as Computer mediated communication, or in short CMC; addressing any form of communication via one or more computers, including cell phones or other technical devices. Therefore, even this web blog can be regarded as a form of CMC.
CMC in companies
But not only teenagers or college students make use of these technologies; companies have come to further develop the idea of computer mediated communication in the last years, replacing personal meetings and therefore saving time and money. At least that is what they are aiming for.
However, the results of different problem solving approaches, such as computer mediated communication versus personal interaction may lead to different outcomes. From a psychological point of view, personal interaction is essential to the working atmosphere and productivity. Therefore, the social consequences of CMC should not be underestimated.
People behave differently.
“Researchers have demonstrated that people tend to behave more bluntly when communicating by e-mail or in other electronic venues. Moreover, misunderstandings, greater hostility, aggressive responses, and nonconforming behaviors are more likely in computer-mediated communication than in face-to-face communication” (McKenna & Bargh, 2000).
When talking to another human in person, one can directly react to their facial impressions and feel their presence. People do not only talk differently than they write, but they also interact differently with people when they are not personally confronting them. This is not so much the case when using video conferences or skype to communicate, however, most often, in private, as well as business life, people interact on a written CMC basis, such as via E-Mail, social networks or text messages. This allows users to have time to think about what they are writing and review the written before hitting the send button. When talking to someone in person, 90% of what we say is an intuitive reaction to what our opponent has just stated, our brain only thinks for the fracture of a second about what our body is going to do next, ergo, before our mouth starts saying what we were thinking. With written communication this intuitiveness is, although not completely, gone. And with it the personal correlation of what we say and who we say it to.
Especially for creative tasks this is an essential downside. Creative decisions and ideas require personal interaction and intuitiveness, which is exactly what is completely erased by most computer based communication methods.
Coworkers become strangers – The idea of the isolated employee
Although we have not quite gotten there, yet, the working atmosphere has changed a lot in the past decades, especially due to new technologies.
Not even a century ago, Hawthorne studies proofed that through good relationships between co-workers the output increases due to better working atmosphere, the current trend seems to be aiming towards a yet again more isolated single worker, only staying in touch with his colleagues via computers, basically talking to machines. Whereas, as already mentioned above, video conferences are mostly used to overcome long distances, other means of technology are simply applied due to their cheap prices and their apparent time efficiency. In the short run this might work, but as the past has proven us before, machines alone can and will not create an appropriate working atmosphere.
“Talk to me”
As scientists keep developing new applications and technologies allowing people to talk to each other without actually speaking to each other, in my opinion one should never forget the importance of interpersonal relationships and their influence on employee´s satisfaction, which is directly linked to their productivity.
Sometimes it is better to take a step back again and review when and where companies, but also private people need (and not “can use”) CMC. Surely, in many situations it might seem easier and nowadays even more common to just hit a few keys on the keyboard while staring at the computer screen, waiting for an immediate answer. Whereas this is certainly the best way for long-distance communication, a short visit to one´s fellow co-workers combined with some small talk refreshes our brain, gets us a little work out and last but not least makes people care about their co-workers and thus the company in general, which is what any manager should be aiming for!