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. 

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