Saturday, November 6, 2010
Computer Mediated Communication is Virally Mythic
Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) has reached every corner of the world, but according to http://www.internetworldstats.com/, only 29% of the world’s population has internet access as of June 2010. When seen through the lens of Postman’s Faustian Bargain, “for every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage” (1998). As this relates to the topic at hand, Postman advocates that we give equal weight to 71% of the world’s population who have no access to the internet. The aggressive adoption of the internet has far-reaching effect, and surely more effects are still to be discovered. In this paper, I seek to frame the impact of the viral spread of the internet on one generation of the world’s youth, specifically the generational group born between 1981 and 2000 called the Millennials (Keener, 2009). Within this framework I hope to highlight the disadvantages of CMC taking on mythic proportions for this specific generation.
To frame this discovery, let us take a brief walk back to a time the Millennials have limited or no experience with. Imagine a time before Skype®, the revolutionary free voice over telephony protocol that allows video and voice calls. Reflect on a time when the concept of instant messaging (IM), of which ICQ® was the groundbreaker, wasn't even a murmur in business much less a day-to-day imperative. Walk back in time when the daily business revenue reports had to be sent by postal service with a wax seal on the back of the envelope to ensure no tampering had occurred. Perhaps you recall a time when international calls were so expensive one could only afford to call once a month for 10 minutes to loved ones. Consider that at one point the act of sending an email was a new buzz in business and a revolutionary idea taking much prep time—computers would crash, email clients would fail, a dial-up connection would break off in the midst of sending, or attachments to the email acted as a lead weight to the process—all potentially resulting in a failed send.
While this reflection seems to bring forth a memory of long ago, dear reader, you have a clear picture of my first international assignment in Germany from 1991-1995.
Fast forward to the present as my international assignment just ended, a full eighteen years after I first worked in a foreign country. In this current time, the millennial generation includes teens, new hires just entering the workforce and mid-level employees just reaching the age of thirty. On this last international assignment, my only difficulty with keeping up with family was the timing of the call due to a 12.5 hour time difference. In business, IM and text messaging were required business communication tools, phone calls using VOIP technology were free and 90% clear of disruption, and video conferencing was a choice to be used at any time.
The millennial generation has always has these technologies to draw from; they were early adopters and indeed more proficient at their computers than their parents. This perspective lends itself to apathy for the meaning, intention and danger represented by CMC, with the focus mostly toward the usability of CMC. With this imbalance of perspective, CMC has taken on mythic proportions and has become in some ways unquestionable. As an example, two female co-workers from the millennial generation were shocked to have their Facebook® records subpoenaed by the courts in order to provide proof of their emotional trauma due to sexual discrimination, as evidenced in a court case against Simply Storage Management LLC (McKinney, 2010).
The millennial generation members that have access to the internet know very little of a world without CMC from first-hand experience, thus have the impression that the internet has always been and will continue to always be a core of their communities in some form. As in Postman’s reference to his students’ misconception that the alphabet has always been, the internet can be mistaken for an overarching fundamental of life.
With this life experience, it is easy for the millennials to unquestionably follow as the water in a river follows the creek bed. To move them from this single mindedness into a more critical line of questioning it is not as simple as inspiring the student to look for reliable sources on the internet. It is unquestionably difficult to raise the level of discussion out of the tactical discussion of “how” to use the internet into the more strategic discussion of why to use it, for whom is it used and ultimately for what purpose always remembering that the internet is a “product of human creativity and hubris” (Postman, 1998).
To get to this strategic level, questions such as the following should be raised regularly by the millennials: Is the internet to be used to further epistemological understanding of the world? Is the purpose for use of the internet to engage at the phenomenological level of communication and view the world from each other’s perspective? How can we consider those left behind by CMC, the 71% of the world’s population that is not connected to the internet?
We, as mentors, managers and parents to this generation, can and must provide the framework for this discussion along with policies to guide the use of this technology known as CMC in order to counter the mythic status that the internet has attained in the past twenty years.
Postman, N. (1998, March 27). Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change. Denver, CO.