The Communication Gap

Normally I blog about security issues, but today I have a completely non-security related topic: How technology is creating a communication gap between us all.

Advancements in mobile technology increasingly make it more convenient to gain insight and gather information whenever and wherever one happens to be. The volume of data at your fingertips today allows you to consume information 24/7 without having to touch a piece of paper.

A May 2010 Pew Internet study shows that seven out of 10 cell phone users text; and one out of three e-mails, accesses the Internet, or instant messages on their cell phone, all up significantly from its 2009 study.

Technology also allows you to communicate at any time without ever actually talking to a human being. But is this healthy, or are we creating a communication gap? Recently while sending text messages back and forth with one of my relatives, I realized I could have picked up the phone and spoken with her in half the time it took to text. I’ve decided to always try to call someone, and if it rolls to voicemail then I’ll send a text message.

It irks me at meetings when people who are supposed to be engaged instead are busy texting or sending e-mails on their mobile devices. I realize that most of us are guilty of this. We’ve become addicted to being always connected and available.

The use of e-mail and text messaging is removing the daily human and social contact that we should have. I’ve even found myself sending a message to someone in an office 20 feet away. Certainly there are situations when you want a paper/electronic trail, but wouldn’t it be nice to get to know people outside the virtual world of a text or e-mail?

Another familiar form of this communication gap is illustrated by the overuse of automated phone systems. These systems can certainly cut business costs, but what is the cost in terms of damage to the enterprise’s reputation? I often hear people talk about never buying another product from company “X” because they called the helpdesk and were routed for 20 minutes through an automated phone system that never gave them the human option.

I do believe some companies have found the delicate balance between customer satisfaction and automation cost savings. There appears to be a trend towards a more balanced interaction that offers a human as an option rather than the continued barrage of automated prompts.

More than two years ago, I gave up using a mobile device for e-mail. And while I miss the functionality of having a calendar with me at all times, I don’t miss being connected to email 24/7. People have been slowly re-trained to call me on my cell phone rather then expect an immediate response to an e-mail. It can be done!

But inevitably, I (like just about everyone else) will be unable to avoid the communication gap. Because of the amount of time I spend traveling outside of the U.S., I will eventually have to succumb again to the need for a mobile device. I have come to realize that using a mobile device can help eliminate the vulnerability and risk of having a laptop confiscated or stolen. I also get concerned that some countries are not allowing visitors to use certain types of encryption or security protocols.

But I will stand my ground when it comes to the need for human interaction. The trick is to find the necessary balance between human and virtual interaction that lets us maintain relationships while we grow as a society.

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Patricia Titus is vice president and global chief information security officer for Unisys. Patricia is responsible for enhancing the existing network security and policies supporting Unisys global employees, while ensuring the continued protection of sensitive corporate and customer data. Prior to joining Unisys, Patricia was the chief information security officer at the Transportation Security Administration within the Department of Homeland Security, where she focused on creating, implementing and maintaining a robust IT security program. Patricia worked overseas in various positions within the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. State Department and various private sector firms.