Friday, February 18, 2011

OMG...LOL! Is Technology Hurting Communication Skills?

Reflection Paper #3: Is Technology Hurting Communication Skills?

            “AYT?  HAU?  CTC ATEOTD?  HAK!  TMB!”  To anyone exceptionally well versed in the world of text messaging, the statement above makes perfect sense.  To those unfamiliar with texting acronyms, this is simply a grouping of letters instead of the conversation “Are you there?  How are you?  Care to chat at the end of the day? Hugs and Kisses! Text me back!”  (Rakoczy, n.d.).  “Teens have created a new form of communication.  We call it texting, but in essence it is a reflection of how teens want to communicate to match their lifestyles” (Cell, 2008, p.2).  While personal expression is valued and welcomed in society, a potential outcome of the more than one billion texts sent each day is a loss in the ability to communicate effectively (Cell, 2008).  The purpose of this reflection paper is to examine the question: Is technology hurting communication skills?  This will include a clarification of terms, positive and negative positions regarding the answer to this question, as well as a final personal opinion. 
The terms that I believe need to be defined to properly understand the question are “technology,” “hurting,” and “communication skills.” Firstly, my definition of technology closely mirrors the one presented by the International Technology Education Association in the United States: “the diverse collection of processes and knowledge that people use to extend human abilities and to satisfy human needs and wants” (Thurlow, 2009, p. 25).  To me, technology is any creation, idea, process, et cetera that makes the existence of humans better.  A butter knife, a hammer, a cell phone, a computer (depending on the day and the internet connectivity), all of these are technologies.  However, the level of convenience they impart is determined by the individual.  Second, hurting is defined as something that is detrimental, something that hampers a situation (Hurt, n.d.).  Finally, communication skills are the set of skills that “enable a personal to convey information so that it is received and understood” (Communication, n.d.). 
According to Walter Ong, writing is “something to be manipulated, something inhuman, artificial, a manufactured product (Ong, 1986, p. 27). It eases the pressure of having to memorize, as was done in oral cultures, and allows for a greater multitude of individuals to participate (as opposed to the bards and the masses) (Ong, 1982 and Ong, 1986). Furthermore, Ong considers writing one of the most dramatic technologies as it “initiated what printing and electronics only continued, the physical reduction of dynamic sound to quiescent space, the separation of the world from the living present, where alone real, spoken words exist” (Ong, 1986, p. 30). 
             In addition, writing leads to the betterment of humans. To begin with, “no other writing system restructures the human lifeworld so drastically as alphabetic writing. Or so democratically, for the alphabet is relatively easy to learn” (Ong, 1986, p. 35). It encourages human potential and transforms human consciousness, thereby enhancing human existence (Ong, 1986). The technology of writing has also resulted in a cornucopia of other technologies, i.e. the printing press and the computer, among others.  From these readings, I conclude that, when considering the question of technology hurting communication skills, Ong would reply that, as writing is a technology as well as a type of communication skill, technological advancement is not only not hurting our communication skills, technology is enhancing it. 
On the opposing side, in his writings, Neil Postman discusses his belief that new technologies lead to casualties.  An example of such a casualty is the fact that children today are unable to learn to read, logically organize thoughts, write simple paragraphs, or focus on lectures for more than a few minutes at a time (Postman, 1992).  He goes on to state “computer technology has not come close to the printing press in its power to generate radical and substantive…thought…although my students don’t believe it, it is actually possible to write well without a processor and, … to write poorly with one” (Postman, 1992, p. 118 & 120).  After reading this, I gather that Postman’s answer to this question would be that, given the fact that students can’t read, write, or organize thoughts, communication skills are most definitely being harmed by technology.
Interestingly, there is a possible mid-point between the two extreme positions.  In the article, Teachers Say Text Messages R Ruining Kids’ Riting Skills, Kate Ross, an instructional coach for Utah School Districts, argues that due in part to text messaging, students are now writing with as few words as possible while failing to account for audience and appropriate voice.  As a prime example, in a school district in Highland, Utah, only 86% of students passed the state-mandated Direct Writing Assessment test.  This statistic shows that technology can, in fact, hurt communication skills.  However, in an attempt to improve scores, the district implemented a computer program called “MY Access!”  This is an online writing program that gave writing assignments while offering instant feedback and corrections.  As a result of implementing this technology, communication skills improved, resulting in passing scores of 94% the following year (Ross, 2007).
I have attempted to address possible answers to the question: Is technology hurting communication skills.  There are definitive positions at the two extremes as well as positions that concede that technology both harms and assists communication skills.  Overall, I believe that the results are inconclusive and much more research and analysis needs to be conducted to determine technology’s effect upon communication.  However, from my research, as well as my personal experience as a high school teacher, I posit that the answer lies somewhere in the middle.  If left unchecked, communication skills could be irreversibly harmed by the ease and instant gratification of technology.  Yet, if individuals and educators make a concerted effort to restrict the acceptance of laziness and slang while simultaneously enforcing proper and correct communication skills, especially by implementing technology into the process, as was done in the Utah school district, then technology, rather than being harmful, can be exceedingly beneficial. 

Cell phones key to teens’ social lives, 47% can text with eyes closed.  (2008).  Retrieved February 15, 2011 from

Communication skills.  (n.d.).  Retrieved February 15, 2011 from

Hurt.  (n.d.).  Retrieved February 15, 2011 from

Ong, W. (1982).  Orality and literacy: the technologizing of the word.  London: Routledge Publishing.

Ong, W.  (1986).  Writing is a technology that restructures thought.  In G. Bauman (Ed.),  The written word (pp. 23 – 50).  Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Postman, N. (1992).  Technopoly: the surrender of culture to technology. New York: Knopf Publishing.

Ross, K. (2007).  Teachers say text messages r ruining kids’ riting skills.  Retrieved February 15, 2011 from

Thurlow, C., Lengel, L., and Tomic, A (2009).  Computer Mediated Communication.   London: Sage Publications Limited. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Reflection Paper #2: Virtual Communities & Online Gaming

 I follow the thinking of sociologists that the concept of community is a social construct.  While some communities may have physical addresses, what makes a community a TRUE community is shared experiences, shared values, shared goals, and shared lives (Bartle, 2007).  This paper will address the question: Is it possible to form a virtual community?  I strongly believe that, by the standard above, online communities DO exist and are re-shaping our relationships.  To support this position, I will cite personal examples regarding online communities, including a jaunt into the World of Warcraft; address the re-shaping of relationships; and highlight statistics regarding concerns raised regarding online gaming.
The experiences, values, goals, et cetera that form communities do not have to currently exist; they may have existed once in the past.  For example, I was part of a wonderful community of sorority sisters in college.  We had experiences that I will always treasure.  Even though we are no longer together in the same house, at the same school, and in the same city, I still consider myself a part of that community.  In addition, through the use of recently available technology, this community has morphed into a virtual one.  I have found many of those girls on Facebook and keep up with their lives with posts and by instant messaging when we are simultaneously on the site.  While the underpinnings of the relationships of my sorority sisters were formed face-to-face, today, this community is dominated by virtual interaction.
Because of personal experiences similar to the one above, I scoff at the notion that virtual communities cannot form.  Isn’t our online communication masters degree an online virtual community?  We are all gathered together with shared values towards education, shared goals for higher degrees, shared experiences through postings, and shared lives through our eight weeks together.  To this point, I agree with Howard Rheingold’s reasoning for online communities as social aggregations as well as Amy Jo Kim’s concept of virtual communities as augmented reality where “you’re ‘you,’ and you’re there to integrate with your life – deal with the issues in your life… shaping your life” (Thurlow, 2009  and Boetcher, 2006).
To further my experience in virtual online communities, I ventured into the world of Massive Multiple Online Role Playing Games, specifically, World of Warcraft. In online gaming, a virtual world is a “persistent, synchronous computer-simulated environment wherein a network of users interact with each other and the three-dimensional environment” (Doodson, 2009, p. 1).   These worlds are virtual gatherings closely mimicking the physical world complete with towns, businesses, currency, and communities.  In these worlds, characters, called avatars, are surrogate projections of yourself that are controlled by the operator via a mouse or computer keyboard.  Avatars gather together in these shared groups and bond through experiences, discussions, battles, tasks, or other collective goals.  Much like our online class, I found that the World of Warcraft fit my definition of community as there are shared experiences in all of the gaming interactions, shared values in the desire to play and interact with others via computer mediated communication, shared goals in relaxing and meeting others to advance the game, and shared lives in the time spent together in this virtual world. 
Another common occurrence between my online class and my World of Warcraft experience was the desire and available mechanism to connect outside of the virtual world.  I have spoken to several of my classmates and look forward to meeting some of them in my three-day on-campus course this summer.  World of Warcraft provides a similar outlet in their Real Life Friends option noted in their Terms of Use. This feature allows access to all personal information and communication through a system similar to Facebook where “those people you designate as ‘real life friends’ will be able to see the names of your other ‘real life friends,’ and your name will be visible by those people that your ‘real life friends’ have designated using the same feature” (, 2010, p. 8).  This addition to the World of Warcraft system is simply one more way to tighten the shared bonds, experiences, and lives between members of the online virtual community that it has created.  Though my online class and World of Warcraft offer mechanisms for contact outside the virtual world, I still consider both of these to be dominantly virtual communities as the majority of all interaction occurs online.
As the introduction of online technologies has re-shaped some of my relationships and offered me entry into new communities previously unavailable, the introduction of the written word long ago offered a similar revolution.  Writing “separates the knower from the known” (Ong, 1982, p. 46).  Part of this allowed separation involves an ability for people to break away from the individuals who knew and told the stories.  No longer required to stay close in a community to hear the oral traditions, humans in a written society are allowed to adapt, create distance, and form new communities.  Interestingly, this is what the computer has also done.  When moving from an oral culture to a written culture, there was resistance and criticism that changes like this would lead to the demise of the community when, in fact, it simply re-defined and re-shaped communities.  With the move from a written society to a computer society, the same has occurred.   It has allowed humans to adapt, create distance, and form new communities as well.  “In the noetic world, separation ultimately brings reconstituted unity” (Ong, 1986, p. 48).  To me, this means, in part, that, while computer mediated communication may have altered some face-to-face community situations, it has also provided for an entirely different sort of community.
As with any period of change, concerns have arisen regarding the impact of virtual gaming and online communities.  Arguments have been made that extended time in virtual communities and playing online games can result in an exaggeration of already existing social disorders.  For example, some individuals are not comfortable interacting in face-to-face situations.  As an outlet, a number of these individuals turn solely to online communities to have relationships, neglecting the physical world (Thurlow, 2009).  While this is a prominent concern, statistics to do not support it.  A study conducted by two German scientists found there was no “indication that playing [online games] leads to a weakening of offline social relations,” which agreed with Johannes Fromme that there is no “need to be alarmed about electronic games leading to social isolation [as] ‘in most cases (gaming) seems to be fully integrated into existing peer relationships” (Kolo, 2004, p. 14 & 16).  But as our use of the virtual world is evolving quickly, further study of potential drawbacks and benefits should be examined.
I have contended online communities not only exist, but are re-shaping our relationships. Furthermore, virtual communities and online gaming, used within moderation, can have numerous positive impacts upon individuals.  It can improve antisocial behavior and cognitive skills, encourage different educational practices, reconnect friends, and introduce people to new communities.  The studies conducted on members of these online communities are still in their early stages and I look forward to the publication of further documentation to determine the advantages and drawbacks to what is fast becoming a mainstream activity.  Ultimately, I believe that virtual communities and online games can provide immeasurable positive benefits to people on many different levels.  

Bartle, P. (2007).  What is community?  Retrieved on January 25, 2011 from       terms of use (2010).  Retrieved February 3, 2011 from
Boetcher, S., Duggan, H., and White, N. (2006).  What is a virtual community and why would             you ever need one??  Retrieved on January 25, 2011 from

Doodson, J. T. (2009).  The relationship and differences between physical- and virtual-world personality.  Retrieved January 26, 2011 from

Kolo, C. and Baur, T.  (2004).  Living a virtual life: social dynamics of online gaming.  Retrieved             February 3, 2011 from

Ong, W. (1982).  Orality and literacy: the technologizing of the word.  London: Routledge             Publishing.

Thurlow, C., Lengel, L., and Tomic, A. (2009).  Computer mediated communication.  London: Sage Publications Ltd.