Smart cookies: e-powered communicator - New technology's revolutionary impact has been on human communication. It's personal, immediate and, surprise, surprise, a real pleasure

Smart cookies: e-powered communicator - New technology's revolutionary impact has been on human communication. It's personal, immediate and, surprise, surprise, a real pleasure - How has communication been revolutionised?

by ANDREW WILEMAN, strategy and organisation consultant; e-mail:wilemanae@aol.com
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

How has communication been revolutionised?

I now stay in touch with people mainly via e-mail. I no longer get any personal letters arriving on my doormat in the morning (except for birthday and Christmas cards) - just bills and junk mail.

Unlike physical mail, e-mail gets stored and filed automatically, and with one-second clicks I can search and thread my correspondence, update my address book, forward and reply to multiple contacts, insert photos or make newsletter attachments ... the list goes on.

And I use e-mail instead of phone calls. I do my friends-and-family e-mails early in the morning or late at night - my best moments for free time and feeling sociable, but the least-appreciated time for a chatty phone call.

And if I'm working in Seattle or Sydney, I'm in touch with my family in London despite the eight-hour time difference.

That's just e-mail, the internet's killer consumer application. I'm sure I don't need to tell you about mobile phones. Then there's chat, SMS messaging, collaboration, and all the other sexy stuff - and maybe, yes, speech recognition that actually works is about to become available.

That's the personal side. How about professional relationships and interactions?

Utterly transformed. I'm writing this column in the US to meet a deadline in the UK tomorrow. In an hour I'll e-mail it as an attachment to Rebecca, my column editor, who will e-mail me back with any queries or changes, and we'll put it to bed. I haven't met Rebecca in the real world (although I'm sure it would be a pleasure).

I'm checking any facts in the column via the internet as I go. I'm copying it to a friend to get his thoughts before I send it off. If anybody wants an example of my writing I forward them the address for the Management Today web site, where they can look at archived Cookies (managementtoday.co.uk).

As a strategy consultant, I'm presenting a draft board report to a European client. We're on a conference call - the chief executive on a speaker phone in Madrid, the commercial senior vice-president on a hotel phone in Stockholm and me on my tri-band mobile (I love it!) in Miami.

I've e-mailed out the report an hour before, we're all online and talking through the PowerPoint on our laptops, and we're editing the report collaboratively in real time.

We're all completely comfortable with this process. (Soon we'll conference via laptop microphones and voice-over-wireless-internet, and we'll see each other via mini-web cams - but that's really gravy; the main behaviour change has already occurred.)

What, generally speaking, is this communication revolution all about?

It's about a step-change in the power, speed, flexibility and control of human communication - and therefore of human interaction and relationships.

It's the simultaneous liberation of who we can communicate with (one or many, friends or strangers); when (right now or at 3am, when we want or when they want); where (in the same room or in three intercontinental time zones); how (briefly or at length, personally or impersonally, in real time or inventoried); and with what (voice, text, data, charts, sounds or images).

You can see it in your own changing behaviour, in your colleagues' changing patterns

of communication at work, and in your company's interactions with customers, employees, partners, suppliers, shareholders and investors.

Surely there must be downsides?

There are. On the personal front, communications can start to take control of you, rather than vice versa - there's no good reason why you can't be reached anywhere and at any time, or why 1,000 employees can't all copy their thoughts-du-jour to all 1,000 of their fellow workers.

In terms of organisation, flat hierarchies and comprehensive input-seeking may be fine in theory, but in practice can lead to all decision-making gravitating upwards to the CEO, since there are no barriers to instant, universal communication of each and every issue.

But these are simply indications that the new communications environment requires new etiquettes and new disciplines. Ultimately, this is the internet killer application, because it's one of our fundamental human needs and drives - and the new technology is really delivering on its promise. E-powered communication is empowering.

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