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Friday, August 20, 2010

"Bullet Points" say it all about communication. We need gentler language.

An interesting piece of research published by Ofcom recently, suggests that the average citizen is using communication technologies and their different platforms, to the tune of over seven hours a day. This hides the fact that an individual might be multi-tasking the technologies in the first place, ie watching television with a blackberry to hand.

One wonders what the neurological implications might be ie thought, concentration and other cognitive attributes. They might throw up awkward issues, but even more worrying, is the implication for social interaction and how we communicate with each other.

Having just returned from a trekking trip around the Mont Blanc Circuit, I reflected on conversations with fellow travelers as we negotiated forests and glaciers. One stands out in particular.

A beef farmer from Scotland observed that language could be brutal. Strange how chance conversations can develop in unexpected ways. He noted that emails and texting encourage a perfunctory and terse exchange of information and we took it from there.

It is as if technology dominates the communication process and personality and conversation become the casualties. You can’t get much more brutal than the use of terminology such as “bullet points”. The term conjures up images of finality, precision and the snuffing out of life standing opposite the attributes of humanity, relationship and conversation. The logical outcome is that when people actually do meet, their communication and inter-personal skills have been stunted. People will have to learn conversational skills later in their lives, when an earlier socialisation process should have enabled it early on, whether it be across the kitchen table or playground.

How does the next generation actually cope with the prospect of meeting people and having to converse?; how will businesses recruit employees with abilities to handle customers?; will the interview process just be a series of psychometric tests?; how will the budding politician engage with the voter on the doorstep and how will the employee engage the skills of tendering, networking and negotiation? In business we tend to buy from people we like, but how do you develop these interpersonal skills in the first place?

2011 has been designated the National Year of Speech, Language and Communication – a campaign to raise the profile of such skills amongst children; an opportunity to focus on their learning difficulties. It should also be an opportunity for everyone to reflect on how much conversation is going on at home and school when the screen is not so much a source of information but a childminder. The photocopier and wordprocessor together gave us information overload - the democratisation of publishing. The mobile phone and computer now gives us people who can’t talk to each other. In the 21st century, never have we had so much communication, but so little conversational ability when we actually meet each other.