Take Two # 116: Communication Evolving

By Kyra-lin Hom

Receptionists get a bad rap. And I'm not just saying that because I am one. On the one hand, general office hierarchy (especially in a large office setting like where I am now) places us at the lowest of the low. As a receptionist, I make the least and rank lowest out of every employee in our office of near 200 people. On the other hand, people talk to me. I know things, and knowledge is its own form of power.

They talk to me because I'm visible. Where everyone else is tucked into their departments and office spaces, behind corners and closed doors, I'm up front and out there. When in doubt, consult the receptionist. So the gig is a delicate balancing act between being approachable, helpful, supplicating and firm. In short, it requires social and communication skills.

Now I am admittedly not the best at these. I am not a natural schmoozer. I can do the whole small talk thing, but it's like a hat I have to actively tie on every morning. In my ideal world I wouldn't have to interact with anyone besides my closest friends. Everything else would be done via text message: personal, relatively private, without the complication of body language and with more time to think of a witty rejoinder. What's wrong with that? Well, there's just the small problem of actually existing as a member of a social species...

According to Clemson University, I likely suffer from a modern psychosocial condition known as Compulsive Internet Use or CIU – as would most people I know. It's exactly what it sounds like and often pairs with Excessive Internet Use or EIU, which is a feeling of using the Internet too much and losing track of time while online. I don't know about you, but this seems old-fashioned. What with smartphones and it being socially acceptable to be constantly wired in, I haven't felt like I've been online too much since middle school. I'm instead engaged in a mutually beneficial, codependent relationship with it – or so I tell myself. The internet is arguably the single most condensed form of entertainment and information we have. Why would I opt for anything else?

Unsurprisingly, the ease of avoiding people via the internet is eroding our face-to-face social skills. We're losing touch with confrontation and body language. Our speech patterns are becoming shorter and more stilted. Have you ever stumbled across letters your grandparents used to write to each other? Yeah...correspondence doesn't sound like that anymore. According to the Global Post, because of our constant exposure to the internet we're now more asocial, impulsive and irritable and less trusting and assertive in the real word.

Here's the kicker, we're not actually that much better at online communication either. Despite initial studies that showed communicating via some kind of instant electronic writtern platform induced less anxiety than face-to-face communication, newer research says nay. That probably has to do with the increased prevalence and normalizing of the internet. Nowadays, people know you aren't as anonymous online as you would like to think. From Facebook to Snapchat to IP indentification, we have gained 'real' online identities. Now suddenly the stakes are back on. We are invested again.

What does this mean for our social skills? Who knows. We'll probably come up with a digital-personal hybrid that renders complete sentences the way of the dinosaurs. A different kind of shorthand elegance, no? It certainly is a brand new world.

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