1.2 Communicating in the Digital Age

Learning Objectives

target icon  After studying this unit, you will be able to

      • distinguish between personal and professional uses of communication technologies in ways that ensure career success and personal health


Honestly, how many texts or instant messages do you send in a day? How many emails? Do you prefer communicating by text, instant message app (e.g., SnapChat), or generally online instead of face-to-face in person with businesses? If you’re an average millennial sending out and receiving more than the 2013 average of 128 texts per day (Burke, 2016), that’s a lot of reading and responding quickly in writing—so much more than people your age were doing 20 years ago. Even if just for social reasons, you are probably writing more than most people in your demographic have at any point in human history. This is mostly an advantage because it gives you a baseline comfort with the writing process, even if the quality of that writing probably isn’t quite where it should be if you were doing it for professional reasons.

Where being overly comfortable with texting becomes a disadvantage, however, is when it is used as a way of avoiding the in-person, face-to-face communication that is vital to the routine functioning of any organization. As uncomfortable as it may sometimes be, especially for teens in their “awkward years,” developing conversational skills throughout that decade is hugely important by the time they enter a workforce mostly populated by older generations that grew up without smartphones, developed those advanced conversational skills the hard way by making mistakes and learning from them, and expect well-developed conversational skills of younger generations entering the workforce. Though plenty of business is done online these days, there really is no good substitute for face-to-face interaction.

According to Twilio’s 2016 consumer report on messaging, however, the most preferred channel for customer service among 18-24 year olds (said 31% of respondents) is by text or instant messaging, followed closely by email (p. 8). Face-to-face interaction, however, is preferred by only 6% of respondents.

Chart showing preferred communication media by age group

Messaging Email Telephone Face to Face Other Web Live Chat Mail
18-24 years  31%  29%  23%  6%  4%  4%  2%
25-34 years  32%  32%  21%  4%  5%  5%  2%
35-44 years  31%  30%  26%  4%  4%  4%  1%
45 – 54 years  24%  31%  32%  5%  2%  5%  2%
55+ years  24%  33%  30%  8%  1%  2%  1%

Figure 1.1: Preferred customer service channel by age group (Twilio, 2016)

Customer service aside, face-to-face interactions are still vitally important to the functioning of any organization. In a study on the effectiveness of in-person requests for donations versus requests by email, for instance, the in-person approach was found to be 34 times more successful (Bohns, 2017). We instinctively value human over machine interaction in many (but not all) situations we find ourselves. Though some jobs like nurse or therapist simply cannot function without in-person interaction and would be the last to be automated (if ever), most others will involve a mix of written and face-to-face communication.

Our responsibility in handling that mix requires that we become competent in the use of a variety of devices that bring us a competitive advantage in our work (see Table 1 below). By working in the cloud with our smartphones and laptop, desktop, or tablet devices, for instance, we can collaborate with individuals or teams anywhere and anytime, as well as secure our work in ways we couldn’t when files were tied to specific devices. Through the years, new technology trends will offer up new advantages with new devices that we will have to master to stay competitive.

Those advantages are double-edged swords, however, so it is important that we manage the risks associated with them. With so much mobile technology enabling us to communicate and work on the go, from home, or anywhere in the world with a wi-fi connection, we are expected to be always available to work, to always be “on”—even after hours, on weekends, and on vacation—lest we lose a client to someone else who is available at those times.  Add to that the psychological and physiological impacts of adults averaging 8.8 hours of screen time per day[1], and it’s no wonder that problematic technology use, including screen addiction, is a growing concern among both health and technology experts (Phillips, 2015). Beyond being an effective communicator and professional in general, just being an effective person—in the sense of being physically and mentally healthy—requires knowing when not to use technology.

But in the workplace, especially if it’s a traditional office environment, we must be savvy in knowing which technology to use rather than always reaching for our smartphones. The modern office offers up a variety of tools that increase productivity and raise the bar on the quality and appearance of the work we do. You must be competent in the use of the latest in presentation technology, voice and video conferencing, company intranets, multifunctional printers, and so on. Even using the latest industry-wide software and social media apps ensures that your communication looks and functions on-point rather than in an antiquated way that makes you look like you stopped trying six years ago.

All such technology will change rapidly in our lifetimes, some will disappear completely, and new devices and software will emerge and either dominate or also disappear. So long as others are using the dominant technology for an advantage in your type of business, then it’s on you to use them also to avoid falling behind and getting stuck on obsolete technology that fewer and fewer people use. Depending on how successful you’re driven to be, you would be wise to even get ahead of the curve by adopting emerging technology early.  Review the following video for an overview of how technology and other trends are shaping the workplace of the future.

Key Takeaway

key iconUse an array of dominant communications technology to maintain a competitive advantage, and know when to put it all away in favour of in-person communication.


pen and paper icon1. Keep a daily journal recording the length of time you spend using various screen devices such as your smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop, TV, etc. Also record the amount of time you use these for school-related activities, social networking activities, entertainment (which you can further break down into passive viewing, such as watching Netflix and YouTube videos, and interactive use such as gaming). What conclusions can you draw from quantifying your screen time? Are your habits consistent each day or throughout the week? Explain what benefit you derive from these activities and how they might help and hinder your professional development.

2. Record how many texts or instant messages you send and receive per day over the course of a week. Count how many you sent because you had good reason to do so by text (as opposed to a phone call), such as to reply in the same channel you received a message or to send a message quietly so as to avoid disturbing others around you (e.g., in-class or late at night). Identify how many messages you could have exchanged merely by calling the person up and having a quick back-and-forth or waiting to talk to them in person. What conclusions can you draw from quantifying your messaging habits?

3. Research what future technology might revolutionize the work you’re training to do. Bearing in mind the job description on the Government of Canada’s Job Bank “Explore Careers by Essential Skills” page, what tasks identified there can be automated? What will still be done by you because it involves the human element that can’t be automated?


Bohns, V. K. (2017, April 11). A face-to-face request is 34 times more successful than an email. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2017/04/a-face-to-face-request-is-34-times-more-successful-than-an-email

Dunckley, V. L. (2014, February 27). Gray matters: Too much screen time damages the brain. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-wealth/201402/gray-matters-too-much-screen-time-damages-the-brain

Morgan, J. (2016). The 5 trends shaping the future of work [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrhmHbDLM8o

Nielsen. (2016). The Nielsen Total Audience Report. Retrieved from http://www.nielsen.com/content/dam/corporate/us/en/reports-downloads/2016-reports/total-audience-report-q1-2016.pdf

Phillips, B. (2015). Problematic technology use: The impact of capital enhancing activity. Association for Information Systems Electronic Library. Retrieved from http://aisel.aisnet.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=sais2015

Twenge, J. M. (2017, September). Have smartphones destroyed a generation? The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/

Twilio. (2016). Understand how consumers use messaging: Global mobile messaging consumer report 2016. Retrieved from https://assets.contentful.com/2fcg2lkzxw1t/5l4ljDXMvSKkqiU64akoOW/

  1. (Dunckley, 2014; Twenge, 2017; Nielsen, 2016, p. 4)


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