Posted by Karen Haslam 25 March 2014
How technology has changed the way we communicate, and it's good as well as bad
The other day we were discussing mistakes that non-technical people make. Such as emailing a bunch of photos that are each 5MB; replying to spam and scams (because they think it's funny to highlight the spelling mistakes); hitting reply all to an email (or even worse when a PR sends an email to multiple people - who they ought to have BCCed – and the error is exacerbated because some of those people think it's hilarious to reply all); and trying to recall an email sent in error (this never works and only encourages the recipient to read it).
Maybe our criticisms were unfair though. If you have only a vague idea of what technology is capable it's easy to presume that it is capable of more than it is. Like the old chap who set cruise control to 70 miles per hour thinking it was like autopilot and slipped into the backseat for a nap (probably an urban myth but a great example).
It got me wondering about what my grandparents and great-grandparents would have made of the technologies we have today, things that I take for granted, like being able to pull my iPhone out of my pocket and contact the friend who I'm meeting to say I'm going to be late; or never getting lost because I can plot a route from A to B using my smartphone; and never having to talk to anyone when I want to book a holiday or transfer money because it's easier and quicker to do it online. Would they be baffled by the possibilities on offer, or would they relish the opportunity to stay connected all the time?
One area where things have changed more than any other is the way we communicate with one another. Generations of our ancestors posted letters and cards to one another, these days the only time we actually post something is at Christmas - and even sending Christmas cards is a dying art. But there's a reason why we don't need to send out that yearly reminder of our existence to all and sundry. Facebook.
It seems surplus to requirement to send a Christmas card to my aunts, uncles and cousins when we can chat almost every day on Facebook. This is the miracle of the modern age, when my parents were my age they probably only saw their cousins at weddings and funerals. Now I 'see' them every day on the internet.
It's the same with the people we were at school with. Without Facebook I'd have stayed in touch with a handful of close friends through the years, perhaps we'd even have exchanged Christmas cards and birthday greetings, but we wouldn't know each other the way that Facebook allows us to. Especially since so many of my closest school friends now live miles away in other countries. As for the many other people from school that I'm still in touch with thanks to Facebook, there's no chance that I'd know them now. I probably wouldn't even recognise them if I passed them on the street. But despite this we do still have a bond. This bond was revealed when last year a good friend from school's husband died (he was also in my year) and we all united in offering our support and sharing our own shock that someone our age could have passed away.
Continuing this gloomy subject for a moment longer, Facebook gave me a way to reach out to friends and family when my mum died. Those little Facebook posts people leave on your wall make the biggest difference when you need a shoulder to cry on. You don't feel so alone when you are surrounded my people offering you sympathy and support.
Facebook verses Twitter
For me Facebook is a place where I can find my friends and this is one of the reasons why I prefer Facebook to Twitter. Twitter, for me at least, is a crowded room full of people shouting about how great they are and not listening to what anyone is saying.
I also find Twitter impersonal. I don't even know the vast majority of the people who follow me so I'm cautious about what I tweet. Since most of the people who follow me are following me in my capacity as editor of Macworld keep my tweets Apple related. Maybe it's the wrong thing to do - I hear that the more of yourself you tweet, the more successful you will be at building a Twitter following, but I think probably I wouldn't be tweeting the sort of things that my typical Twitter follower would be interested in.
I also have reasons not to disclose too much about myself on Twitter. It's an unfortunate byproduct of these uncensored communication tools that there will always be one crazy person who uses them to attack someone with malicious and unsubstantiated claims that are a complete figment of their addled imagination (I haven't personally been a target of this kind of activity, but people I know have suffered in this way and Twitter was not quick to react).
That said, by plugging my Twitter account into a newsreader I'm able to keep up-to-date with the articles that the people I follow on Twitter are sharing, and this way I can stay up to date with the industry news and gossip I need to know about. So maybe Twitter is a useful communication tool for me after all, bringing me information I need in a timely way.
Not that long ago we had to buy newspapers and magazines to find out what was going on in the world. These days news breaks on Twitter and then the news blogs and the rest of the web tries to put their spin on it.
There's another reason why I should cut Twitter some slack. Back in January a Facebook friend posted an alert that her friend's husband had gone missing in Las Vegas. Her plea just happened to coincide with CES so I knew a lot of people out in Vegas at the time. Less than ten minutes after I tweeted the missing person's photograph I had a tweet from another tech journalist who had seen him. I should add that the exchange of tweets happened while I was sitting on a hospital ward. The fact that we can find a missing person thousands of miles away due to Twitter, and do all that from a hospital ward, has to count for something.
It's not good to talk
Along with all this Facebooking and Tweeting, there is a definite inclination these days towards the written word. When we find things out we share them on Twitter, or Facebook, or we text or email our friends and colleagues. We have whole conversations and brainstorms over email rather than meeting up and talking simply because it uses up less of everybody's time to discuss things this way.
Like the Christmas card, the phone call is a dying art. It's just quicker and easier (and less intrusive) to text or email some rather than call them, at least if you are remotely tech savvy. I find myself frustrated when a friend calls because I don't have the time to talk to them on the phone. I'd much rather text or email and arrange to meet up in the real world when I have set aside the time to see them.
Perhaps this is a symptom of the busy world we are living in today. Where we just can't find half an hour to spend on the phone. But then it never is just half an hour is it?
Maybe it's just me? I write for a living and to be honest, I'd much rather write an email than have a conversation on the phone, at least most of the time.
How are the older generation adapting to this modern way of communicating? My dad is becoming quite the Facebooker. It's great for him because he can keep in touch with our family, which is flung far and wide these days. It's opened up the world for him and bought everyone back into his life. He can see my cousin's children grow and he can feel a part of things he'd never know about otherwise.
These new technologies can also be used for ill though. A friend was telling me that her aging mother, who's always been quite nosey about her neighbours, has now discovered that she can look up details about their properties on Zoopla.
Which reminds me of another common technology mistake that people who aren't tech savvy make – thinking that we can keep our privacy intact while we upload our lives to the internet. No matter how carefully you maintain your privacy settings your personality still exists on a server somewhere and the people who provide that server will find a way to make money out of it.