Communication May 8, 2008

Communication – Issue 34

After I sent out the last article Sally stuck her head over the top of the partition and suggested the topic of the next Future’s Ramblings be communication. This was after she suggested I call Kevin Rudd and ask to be invited to the 2020 summit. Sadly, Kevin had already sorted his list of attendees by that time and it didn’t include me. A foolish move I think, I most certainly would have made a greater contribution to our country’s future than Kate Blanchette’s baby Iggy. Also, I can assure you that if Kevin had asked me to facilitate a workshop the participants wouldn’t have been whining afterwards that their ideas were not incorporated into the final recommendation. Just ask some of our strategy clients about my tenacity to record all that was said in a workshop. One recently got very snarky with me for including comments from participants who were younger. Apparently they were of the opinion that only the CEO’s opinion was relevant. It makes you wonder, why if these people’s views were not considered relevant; they were invited in the first place?

We have been communicating with one another since we lived in caves and grunted to let each other know something had been caught to eat, or vice versa – something was going to feast on us for dinner. This grunting is remarkably similar to the way teenaged children behave today, except the cave is now air conditioned and has a computer. Although it may seem that it is the computers that set us apart from our cave dwelling ancestors; in a tangential way, it is the behavours the computer induces that links us. Why? The way we communicate with one another using a computer is very reminiscent of tribal societies.

The patterns and profile surfing, messaging and ‘friending’ that goes on in most social networking sites is a resurgence of an ancient pattern of oral communication. Lance Strate, a communications professor at Fordham University is convinced that the popularity of social networks stems from their appeal to deep-seated, prehistoric patterns of human communication. Communication devices such as, blogging, posting of videos and now services like Twitter, which limits a user’s message length to 145 characters, make social networking a lot like face to face communication.

The concept of social networking was not developed with the web; it in fact dates back to ‘small world’ experiments conducted by mid-20th century sociologists who explored how people connected. Friendster, LinkedIn, MySpace and Facebook are all variations on this theme. What all of these networking sites do is allow people to map out their social interactions, and then overlay those with applications to do useful things, like tell your mates what to watch on TV, what music to listen to or whether you are eating a ham sandwich.

‘Orality’ is the word that is used to describe human experience, it refers to things that are participatory, interactive and focus on the present. The concept of ‘secondary orality’ describes the tendency of electronic media to echo earlier oral cultures by uniting people together. When you create an oral culture you are doing more than just talking, there are dynamics at work that lead to a strong and binding sense of community. As a result of computers, and ‘secondary orality’ we can mimic that dynamic without being face to face and this poses interesting opportunities and challenges.

On the opportunity side there is a new class of technology vendors springing out of the woodwork who stand to make a nice profit off of this new communication phenomena referred to as ‘socialprise’ – a mash-up of social networking features and standard enterprise computing applications. Companies with names like InsideView and Genius combine internet searching with social networking and business intelligence to give workers access to pools of information that are related. These companies produce software that gives employees a means to map their contacts and their contact’s relationships, resulting in the ability to create networks or communities of people with similar interests. For example if we had this at Geyer Tony Alberti could create a network around footy tipping and I would never have to hear about it again because it would be on the social network site and not our company e mail.

Using social networks in the workplace is not going to be a flash in the pan, if it was companies like Oracle, IBM and Microsoft would not be adding social networking features to their corporate software applications. Also, if this was a passing fad you would not be hearing about guys like Joe Busateri who is a senior leader in the Global Technology and Operations business unit at MasterCard who has turned to social networking to get his people talking to each other. He has established blogs and wikkis, including one called Priceless Ideas, where employees can let everyone in the organisation know when they have had an ‘Ah Ha’ moment.

Of course all of this does not come without its drawbacks. The web and the communication style it has bore is wreaking havoc with written English. A study conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, in partnership with the College Board’s National Commission on Writing found that two – thirds of 700 students surveyed said their e-communication style bled into school work. They omitted proper punctuation and capitalisation and a quarter said they used emoticons such as smiley faces to get their point across. Good lord ! Some people think that as the English language evolves these e mail conventions, such as using smiley faces and omitting capital letters and punctuation will become acceptable. Good lord !

There are drawbacks in the workplace too. Many businesses today spend a great deal of time debating whether they should allow their employees to use social networking sites at work. We have had a similar debate at Geyer, mostly among those of us over 40 who feel left out because we can’t figure out how to turn on Facebook. So to those of you who have asked me to be your friend, it is not that I don’t want to be your mate, I just don’t know how. That should make you LOL.

Of course this is not the first time communication styles have been developed that intentionally or unintentionally exclude others. By example, in the US there are gangs of Latino girls who have developed a new language that is a sophisticated transposition of letters in a word; it is a type of pig Latin that allows knifings against rival gangs to be planned at school without the teachers catching on. How beneficial! Similarly, nerd gamers like my son have made up their own language so they can talk to each other without the rest of us knowing what they are talking about. I suspect they communicate about why none of them have ever had a date.

I suppose at the end of the day, what is important is not how we communicate, but that we communicate. To do that, we need to acknowledge that words we sometimes use that we think everyone understands are industry jargon. To drive this point home I will leave you with an e-mail my brother sent me. He is a rocket scientist (no I am not kidding) if you can figure out what he is talking about please let me know.

Hello everyone,
Well we finally launched Atlantis, and it is on its way to the ISS to continue assembly. This is a big flight for us, as we will be installing the P3/P4 truss (photo enclosed). This truss will add 2 additional power channels to the two we have now. Each channel is capable of about 12 kW of electrical power. There is of course a thermal control system needed to cool the batteries and other equipment on the truss. We will also deploy a photo-voltaic radiator (photo enclosed), which rejects the waste heat to space. I am on console (mission ops) the 2nd half of the flight. Hope all is well, I’m relieved that it is finally starting to cool off!
Love Brett


Flynn, Laurie J. “MySpace Mind-set Finally Shows up at the Office”. The New York Times, April 9, 2008

Holson, Lauren M. “Text Generation Gap: U R 2 Old”. The New York Times, March 9, 2008

Lewin, Tamar. “Teachers have to LOL – or They’d Cry” The New York Times, April 26, 2008

Ruehl, Peter. “English the Language of Opportunity”. The Australian Financial Review, April 29, 2008

Wright, Alex “MYSPACEBOOK Past – Friending Ancient or Otherwise”, The New York Times December 2, 2007

Walsh, Mike. “Network Narcotics” Australian Anthill Magazine, December 2007/January 2008

“Twitter Launches in Japan, Land of Haiku” The New York Times, April 23, 2008


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