There is a really unique quote by Peter Drucker that confronts new forms of communication today, “The most important thing in communication is to hear, what isn’t being said.” But how do you know what is not said if you are not observing your conversation partner? How do you know if there is communicative silence or silence because they are thinking about something else?
As Drucker affirms, in a conversation there are many gestures, movements and grimaces that have no words, but say a lot. However, with today’s new forms of communication, such as instant messaging or email, we lose these details. Does this affect the quality of our relationships?
The new forms of communication
Undoubtedly, there are new forms of communication that are changing our way of seeing the world. What was once a simple conversation between people, or at best a phone call, can now be a WhatsApp group, a comment on Facebook or a Twitter contribution of 140 characters. These are just some examples.
So new technologies and their contributions are changing communications at high speed. Face-to-face contact seems increasingly obsolete every day. But, while these changes provide excellent advantages, as a faster and more practical communication, they also have their cons. Is a WhatsApp conversation as effective as face-to-face?
According to David R. Olson, a prestigious cognitive psychologist, some factors must be taken into account. Communication is based on three acts: the locutionary, illocutionary, and perlocutionary.
A locutionary act means the production of sounds, words and the meaning of a sentence. An illocutionary act is the force of sentence. The perlocutionary act deals with the effects produced by the sentence.
Here’s an example:
- “Give it to her.” – Locutionary act.
- They advised me to give it to her. – Illocutionary act.
- They convinced me to give it to her. – Perlocutionary act.
The locutionary act is only the act of saying something. An illocutionary act can involve different uses of the same phrase, depending on how someone understands what is being said. For example, saying “I am cold” can mean you want the other person to close the window, lends you their coat, or is just giving information about their physical state.
A different communicative reality where the illocutionary act is lost
According to Olson, who believes that speech cannot be transcribed exactly into writing and reading, the illocutionary act is lost. That is to say, that only locutionary and perlocutionary acts remain.
Thus, relevant aspects of communication, such as the tone of voice and its oscillations, are completely lost. It is true that we can use exclamation marks and even capital letters to “raise our voice”, but we cannot interpret accent and intonation, relevant data that could indicate nervousness, anger, discontent …
This deficit in the illocutionary aspects of the conversation not only generate frustration or insecurity in the receiver or the recipients of the messages, but can also cause frustration in the person who emits them. You may have the feeling that something is missing in order for the other to understand you.
The peculiarities of the new forms of communication
Another peculiarity of these new forms of communication is when we talk to a stranger. We cannot interpret what that person is like, since they are not in front of us. So it is complicated for us to get an idea of what the person is like.
We cannot say that this point is more or less negative. It is simply different. What is certain is that a lot of intimacy is lost and the illocutionary act disappears completely. In fact, it could even lead to assumptions about the real intentions of the person on the other side of the communication.
It is clear that virtual communication is not worse than traditional communication, it is simply different and will be good for different purposes. Nowadays we already have technology for video calls so that both speakers can see each other while they talk.
When two people communicate by WhatsApp, or another method of instant messaging, there is one more variable. If they already know each other well, some of the illocutionary act could remain in part, so that the receiver makes more accurate interpretations.
Does today’s communication cause loneliness?
In reality, new forms of communication simply provide an extra means of conversation. Does that tend to harm the quality of our communication? The truth is that technology facilitates holding conversations that we couldn’t otherwise have. However ,it will always penalize the quality of these conversations.
Finally, studies reveal that the growing sense of loneliness that occurs in today’s society is partly due to increased use of certain media. We can see people on the screen, but it’s harder for us to feel close to them. With a video call we can look them in the eyes, but we can never hold them or touch them.
Use technology to communicate with someone far away, but not to talk to those who are close. Exploit its benefits, but don’t let technology’s handicaps damage your relationships.