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Friday, 5 December 2014

Toneless CMC? I don't think so...

I spend a good deal of time communicating with people through computers these days, as I suspect do most of us. Exchanging hurried emails as we fight to cram in more hours of work each day than is possibly feasible. Sometimes the fact that we can access such messages anywhere, on our phones, on the train etc. means that we feel we are taking part in several ongoing conversations rather that writing a specific message in reply to a clear written communication. I have been accused from time to time of writing rather blunt emails, short and to the point. Equally I have recieved emails which have no more than one word, be it "yes" or "no". 

Such exchanges have been vairously reported as faulty because the medium of email doesn't communicate tone of voice. Of course, any written medium doesn't carry the sound of the voice of the writer. The voice in our head re-interprets the written words in front of us and we reconstruct an impression from that as to how it was written and the feelings it conveys. Although, as a lover of poetry and literature, I think great writers are very clear in their self expression, one has to bear in mind that they may spend days or months crafting their writing and considering how it is to be recieved. Spoken messages are very much clearer, carrying lots of information above and beyond the simple communication of facts. Voice is an amazingly poserful communication tool, something babies learn within moments of birth.

There are of course ways in modern computer mediated communication (CMC) to add tone to your message although some may be frowned upon or ridiculed depending on yrou audience! The emoticon, a small collection of characters on the keyboard that generate an icon or emblem such as :) are designed to help others understand the tone of your message. Whe we get to the stage where we are communicating with somone in a frequent, ongoing way, the tool of choice would have to be either text messaging or instant messaging where use of emoticons is commonplace. Business gurus recognise the scope for miscommunication that can occur through email and have some good advice. 

However as we get more multimodal, using a range of CMC tools for different purposes perhaps we should bear in mind the appropriate ways of communication they require and facilitate. When the telephone was first invented we needed to be taught the protocols for its use. I was taught as a child to answer the phone by saying my phone number and name and then asking "who's speaking please" (my parents ran a business, I knew it was important to give the right impression). We could learn much from younger folk about which technologies are best for which interactions, and they from us can learn how captured, traceable computer-mediated communication is not always our friend. So think before you type :)