Communication and Technology

1. Introduction

Have you ever been in an organization where communication was not an issue? If so, you're the exception rather than the rule.[1]
--Ron Ashkenas, Senior Partner of Schaffer Consulting and an expert on organizational transformation.[2]

Communication is defined as "the process by which we understand others and in turn endeavor to be understood by them."[3] The process of sending messages, receiving messages, and responding with feedback is a critical part of daily life. People are constantly communicating--both in and outside of the workplace--making it necessary for one to have a complete understanding of the communication process. Communication has existed since the dawn of life on Earth (non-human animals also communicate), but modern technology has significantly altered the way people communicate. Several key communication concepts will be explored here, including communication's history, trends in communication technology, technology's effect on organizations, and recommendations for managers of organizations.

2. Background

Communication systems can be isolated into two categories: non-technological systems, and technological systems. Non-technological systems of communication do not utilize tools or machines to send or receive messages.[4] Under this definition, only one non-technological communication system exists: oral communication. Oral communication (which encompasses both verbal and non-verbal messages) relies only on the face-to-face transmission of ideas. Ancient forms of communication which would at first appear to be non-technological still rely on tools to send messages. Prehistoric cave paintings relied on artistic tools to create communicative symbols. Written communication relies on tools such as pens or a printing press. Technological systems clearly form the majority of communication systems, and are thus broken down into two further categories: early technological systems and modern technological systems.

2.1 Early Communication Technology

2.11 Telephones

This video will provide you with a modest understanding of the telephone.

The telephone is an electrical device for transmitting speech, consisting of a microphone and receiver mounted on a handset. Telephones became widely used for communication in the early 1900s but were not common enough to be available in each household. The operator system was used where an operator would be standing by around the clock to connect one telephone to another. This was possible because not many people had telephones and there weren’t too many numbers. Long distance calls were placed in a phone booth placed locally around and in stores in cities and towns. Some examples of early telephones are hand cranked wooden phones, candlestick phones, and corded dial phones.

2.12 Telegraphs

The telegraph is is a device for transmitting and receiving messages over long distances. A telegraph message sent by an electrical telegraph operator or telegrapher using Morse code is known as a telegram. Before telephones were readily available, telegram services were the fastest and most affordable way to deliver messages and even for binding business contracts.[5]

2.13 Fax Machines

Faxing is a method of encoding data, transmitting it over a telephone line or radio broadcast, and receiving a hard copy of the text, line drawings, or photographs at a remote location. It was invented by Scottish inventor and mechanic Alexander Bain in 1843 but it did not become popular until the late 1970’s. Inventors after Bain worked on improving the fax machine and the telegraph came out of that project.[6]

2.14 Postal Mail

Mail, or post, is a system for transporting letters and other tangible objects: written documents, typically enclosed in envelopes, and also small packages are delivered to destinations around the world. “Mail, consisting mostly of government dispatches, was carried from place to place by horse or horse-drawn wagon in ancient Egypt and Persia. Most mail was still being transported the same way in the middle of the 19th century, when stagecoaches carried letters and packages to the West coast."[7]

2.2 Recent Technological Communication

2.21 Email

Email is a method of exchanging digital messages from an author to one or more recipients. It is based on a store-and-forward model. Email is widely used as a form of business communication and overall it is a highly effective communication tool. “Email is inexpensive, only requiring an Internet connection that is generally already present in the business. Sending simple messages to an entire workforce with just the click of a mouse is fast, easy, convenient and can save the company money.”[8]

2.22 Instant Messaging

Instant messages are quicker than emails. The exchange of information occurs in real time between two or more people logged on to an IM service such as AOL or MSN instant messenger. Communication is generated like a phone call, but on a computer. Instant messaging benefits businesses by a) allowing businesses from across the office building or across the country to be contacted in real time, b) presenting a convenient alternative to a phone call, c) allowing for decisions to be made and information to be generated quickly, d) eliminating the lag time between phone calls or "phone tag", and e) allowing employees to multi-task. Some of the detriments to instant messaging, however, include a) causing distractions in the workplace, b) the worry of company information being shared in a public place, and c) legal standards must be known and followed specifically by all employees.[9]

2.23 Text Messaging

Text messaging is similar to instant messaging, but the message is carried through a phone rather than through a computer. In business, text messaging is convenient when a businessperson is not at a computer or in the office. Some of the advantages of using text messaging in business are similar to the those of instant messaging. The biggest advantage is the quick communication that is available away from the office. Some other conveniences of text messaging in business include a) eliminating "phone tag", b) presenting an alternative to a phone call, c) allowing decisions to be made and information to be generated quickly, d) allowing companies to display information to consumers about company news, financial alerts, and advertising, and e) allowing employees to multi-task. The problems with text messaging, however, are a) distractions caused in the workplace, b) company information shared in a public place, and c) legal standards become a problem since all messages cannot be monitored to follow company guidelines.[9]

2.24 Pod Casts


A podcast is a media file that can be shared on the internet and downloaded on computers or portable devices - for example, a smart phone or a tablet. A podcast allows a company to inform its customers about upcoming events, launches, or products to look for. Podcasts can improve customer relations. Podcast are often used by companies to send messages - whether audio or video - when the information does not need to be delivered in real time. This allows the company to add a personal touch and a friendly face to the information it is sharing. Podcasts are a less expensive alternative to a costly teleconference and live media. With the information shared publicly, the media can be viewed an unlimited number of times.[9]

2.25 Blogs

A blog is a website that contains posts - like journal entries - that allow people to comment. Blogs can contain text, pictures, videos, and links to other websites. A blog is a way to share information and receive feedback. Blogs specifically can be used to enhance public relations and customer relations by allowing consumer input. Blogs can also serve as market research. This technique by a business allows the customers and employees to be involved and informed of the company. This leads to the advantage of reaching larger audiences and growing a far-reaching community. 78% of Fortune 500 companies participate in blogs right now.[9]

2.26 Wikis

A wiki is a website that allows multiple people to collaborate on the posts. More than one person can access the website and control the posts, editing, and sharing of information that occurs. Wikis are a good collaboration tool for a large team to generate information. Wikis also allow communication across distances. Wikis can be used for global reach, acquiring knowledge, facilitating meetings, project management, and documentation of projects and meetings.[9]

2.27 Social Networking


Social networking is one of the most common uses of the internet. Social networking gives people with various interests a chance and a place to meet. Social networking sites such as help professionals apply for jobs and establish business contacts.

Social Networking also allows group collaboration on projects within a company. Companies can assign teams based on natural commonalities or improve brand image by creating a community on a social networking site. Some of the worries that accompany social networking, though, are public embarrassment from employees' behavior, a loss of productivity, and a loss of company secrets online.[9]

3. Communication Technology Trends

In his book, Communication Technology: the new media in society, communications scholar Everett Rogers of the University of New Mexico identifies three trends in technological communication:
  1. Interactive communication. "Interactivity is the capability of new communication systems (usually containing a computer as one component) to "talk back" to the user, almost like an individual participating in a conversation."[10]
  2. De-massified communication. "The new media are also de-massified, to the degree that a special message can be exchanged with each individual in a large audience. Such individualization likens the new media to face-to-face interpersonal communication, except that they are not face-to-face. The high degree of de-massification of the new communication technologies means that they are, in this respect at least, the opposite of mass media."[10]
  3. Asynchronous communication. "The new communication technologies are also asynchronous, meaning they have the capability for sending or receiving a message at a time convenient for an individual... Unlike a telephone call, electronic messaging systems avoid the problem of "telephone tag..." Only about 20 percent of business calls directly reach the individual being telephoned. In new communication systems, the participants do not need to be in communication at the same time."[10]

Several of the new technological communication systems driving these trends are explored below.

3.1 Social Media

3.11 Twitter

Twitter is a very popular instant messaging system that lets a person send brief text messages up to 140 characters in length to a list of followers. It allows businesses and Individuals to post personal messages, advertising, and an assortment of other things to their "followers."

3.12 Facebook

Facebook is a social networking website that was originally designed for college students, but is now open to anyone 13 years of age or older. Facebook users can create and customize their own profiles with photos, videos, and information about themselves. Friends can browse the profiles of other friends and write messages on their pages. Along with individuals, many businesses have a Facebook account and send out information to their friends and customers about upcoming products or sales.

3.13 LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a social networking website designed for business professionals. It allows you to share work-related information with other users and keep an online list of professional contacts.

3.2 Smart Phones, Tablets, and Cloud Computing


Smart phones and tablets, along with the advent of "cloud computing" provide communicators with the most accessible, reliable, and convenient system yet. 3G and other wireless networks have given people the ability to access their computer data from virtually any location. Emails, projects, document sharing, and video conferencing are easier now than ever. Users have the freedom to work from their home, office, or even outside.

4. Communication Technology and Businesses

The largest advantage to the spread of electronic messaging in business is the greater range information can reach. By posting reports online, or allowing employees to collaborate from separate branches of the company, a business is able to reach more people. Customers and employees alike benefit from the greater knowledge. Customer satisfaction, customer relations, and public relations all increase for a company using social media and electronic messages. By being more informed, customers and employees can be more content. The quick response and distance that can be covered allows employees to get more work done than could be done alone.

Some aspects of electronic media, however, can cause a company harm. Many companies face productivity losses and litigation because of a misuse or unauthorized use of the technology. Without regulation, it is difficult for a company to track and monitor all parts of electronic media in business. When allowed to use electronic media for work resources, employees find ways to use the internet for non-work reasons as well. If an inappropriate message is created, the internet serves as proof for anyone to see. For this reason, there must be rules set in place in all situations.[9]

4.1 Communication Technology Advantages

4.11 Globalization

“Globalization is the process of integrating people from varies countries, nations, cultures and governments into one global melting pot” (Globalization & Communication Technology).

With the internet, telecommunications, broadband, cell phone technology, handheld wireless mobile devices and other communication technology, geographically dispersed workers can now interact and collaborate as though they all were located together under the same roof. Communication is not only done quickly and efficiently, but it also brought down linguistic and geographic barriers.

4.12 Cost Effectiveness

Communication technology has changed the way companies do businesses. Tasks that once took large sums of money can now be completed with a touch of button for pennies.This has allowed small businesses to better compete with large organizations in the global market.

4.13 Time Efficiency

Technology has also increased the speed in which business is conducted. This is especially advantageous to companies that do business with customers and clients in far away locations. Instead of waiting days for documents to be received from another country, businesses may now exchange files in a matter of seconds over the internet. Telephone and video conferencing technology has also benefited businesses in long distance communication.

4.2 Communication Technology Disadvantages

4.21 Impersonal Perception

A significant disadvantage of communication technology is the perception that a business is impersonal. Businesses often use the method of electronic communication to respond to customers’ inquires and orders places on their websites. Consumers trying to contact a business and not able to reach a human being may become frustrated by these methods. Employees may also find electronic communication impersonal if they only receive messages from managers or other employees through email.

4.22 Security Issues

Communication technologies can create various security issues. Identity theft is made possible because of the vast digital data communication networks that share personal information. From cell phone signal interceptions to email hacking, business associates are now worried about their private information becoming public knowledge.

4.23 Complexity and Training

Technology can be complex and it might be necessary to train in order to operate the systems efficiently. Implementing new technologies within a business environment can also be time consuming and affect many employees.

5. Suggestions for Managers

Because "50% to 90% of a manager’s time is spent communicating," it is imperative that they adopt communication strategies that increase efficiency while still preserving their message's meaning.[11] The following strategies will help organizational leaders manage their communication technology:

  • Use social media for two-way conversations with customers. Advertising with Facebook and Twitter is certainly advisable and exciting. However, social media must not just be used to reach out to customers, but also to listen to them. Managers should use Facebook's polling tool to receive feedback from customers related to their products or performance. Listening to customers this way is fast, free, and reliable.
  • Managers cannot sacrifice their brand's integrity just to create social buzz. Fashion house Kenneth Cole received an immense amount of negative publicity when it promoted its products at the same time as the Egyptian riots earlier this year. A tweet from Kenneth Cole's page read as follows: "Milions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at - KC. ... Cole's tweet is... a cautionary tale about the importance of attending to the boundary between engaging edgy and offensively tasteless."[12] Managers must avoid getting customers talking about them for the wrong reason.
  • Distance your communication from spam. Because communication is so easy in the current era, it is not uncommon for individuals to delete digital messages without even reading them. Managers must be careful to only provide content that their readers want to see. Overloading a message with advertisements will quickly get it categorized as spam mail.

6. Conclusion

Communication and technology have evolved at a rapid pace, and they seem to evolve consistently together. Many years ago people were using fire and smoke as a means to communicate over long distances. The arrival of the telephone made international communication possible. Email let individuals communicate with the masses instantaneously. Social media reversed the mass communication trend, and will continue to connect us into the future.

The massive popularity of social networks such as MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn is beyond dispute, they provide a very public place for us to represent ourselves online. Businesses' online reputation are made of everything they put under their name. When potential friends and clients visit your page, make sure they see something that is consistent with who you are, what you do, and what you are working on.


Works Cited

1. Ashkenas, R. (2011, February 15). Your communications may not be communicating. Retrieved from
3. Dance, F. E. X. (2006). The "concept” of communication. Journal of Communication, 20(2), 204-204. Retrieved from
8. Lorette, K. (2011). The use of email in business communication. Retrieved from
10. Rogers, E. M. (1986). Communication technology: the new media in society. New York, NY: The Free Press.
11. Schnake, M. E. (1990). Effects of differences in subordinate perceptions of superiors’ communication practices. Journal of Business Communication, 27, 37-50.
12. Samuel, A. (2011, February 07).Kenneth cole's social media marketing lesson. Retrieved from

Works Consulted

2. Schaffer Consulting's profile of Ron Ashkenas.
4. Technology. In (2011). Oxford English Dictionary (3 ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
5. Telegraphy. In (2008). New World Encyclopedia Retrieved from
6. Bellis, M. (n.d.). History of the fax machine & alexander bain. Retrieved from
7. Postal services history. (n.d.). Retrieved from
9. Guffey, M. E. (2008). Business communication: Process & product. (7 ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning.