Military historians have universally agreed that the 1942 Battle of Coral Sea was the first naval engagement in which the participating ships never sighted or directly fired on each other. Instead, the two navies launched their respective aerial attacks from their aircraft carriers, hoping to find the enemy before the enemy found them.

Just as technology forever changed warfare, 21st Century innovation spawned new digital communications techniques that have dramatically altered personal confrontations. The widespread use of emails and texting has made these exchanges more sterile and antiseptic and more importantly they have reduced the vulnerability of the perpetrator to rhetorical counterattack.

Forget about looking the person in the eye, just fire away into cyberspace.

pacinowilliams

We have all seen mountains of stories about how Internet technology either delivered through hubs, switches and routers via fiber optics lines or wirelessly via satellite has spawned instantaneous global communications at a blink of the eye. These new Web 2.0 technologies have made us better communicators…I said these new Web 2.0 technologies have made us better communicators. Right?

In many cases, these new technologies have actually made it easier to avoid communications, particularly those that invite less-than-pleasant rejoinders or pertain to difficult-to-deliver messages. One of the unintended consequences of digital communications, primarily by e-mail and texting, is that they have reduced quality verbal intercourse.

Just five years ago, there were countless reports about how companies were contemplating “No-E-Mail Fridays” encouraging employees to contact customers, suppliers, partners and colleagues by phone or even (gasp) face-to-face. US Cellular chief operating officer Jay Ellison said that he received plenty of push back for this proposal, but also found out that he (and presumably others) were continually emailing people on the same floor that they had never met or even knew where they were located…because of email. He found out where they were actually sitting by old-fashioned picking up the phone. Imagine what one could find out by actually walking down the hall?

A Google search on the subject of “No E-Mail Fridays” reveals about 2.3 million results, but most are for stories 2008 and earlier. It is safe to conclude that the idea is not taking hold, and will never take hold. E-mail and texting reign supreme.

What seems to becoming more common instead is the unfortunate and gutless practice of using text and emails to deliver bad news, sharp criticism or unpleasant announcements.

Want to dump a girlfriend or boyfriend (depending on whichever applies), ah just send a text.

Need to tell a job applicant that just went through 12 or more interviews that she or he didn’t win the brass ring, just send an email and wash your hands of it.

And the losing contestants bidding for an RFP “cattle call?” Just fire off an email, avoiding having to try to explain to each firm why they came up short.

The UK Guardian’s Sam Delaney wrote about how song writer Phil Collins dumped his second wife, Jill Caveman, by fax back in 1994, setting off a rage in Britain because he didn’t have the guts to deliver the bad news face-to-face.

collins

“We are heartless and cowardly, and technology is to blame,” Delaney wrote in his March 4 piece. “…What a ridiculous and soppy excuse for a human being you have become (generic email/text using confrontation avoider). Just get up, walk across the room, and have it out with the person using the mouth, tongue and larynx that God gave you. Go ahead and make a scene. The other person will think twice before getting all up in your inbox.”

While I personally do not condone making a scene as civility is under attack throughout American society (e.g. US politics), being standup boys and girls is a noble goal. If you need to tell someone something that they need to know, no matter how difficult, tell them preferably to their face or at a minimum by phone…at least they can hear the inflection in your voice and you can hear their reply. It’s past time to stop hiding behind e-mails and texts, but I am afraid that this cowardly era is just beginning.

Hear that? It’s the next wave of cyber messages heading inbound for their targets.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Coral_Sea

http://blogs.attask.com/blog/strategic-project-management/two-ways-to-improve-project-communication

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91724075

http://decembersblue.blogspot.com/2011/03/delaney-discusses-cons-of-communication.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phil_Collins

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