-- Eugen* Leitl <a href="http://www.lrz.de/~ui22204/">leitl</a>
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Lets face it, man is not made to communicate electronically
Cell phones and e-mail may have become common forms of communication in
the 21st century, but centuries of evolution have made face-to-face
communication man?s preferred method, says Dr. Ned Kock, director of the
E-Collaboration Research Center in Temple University?s Fox School of
Business and Management.
"There is a principle from evolution theory called the ?repeated use
principle,? which argues that we have to repeatedly use a medium of
communication, an organ, or a task so that our biological apparatus
becomes optimized to use that tool or perform that task," says Kock.
"Since we have communicated during most of the past three to five million
years by using face-to-face interaction, you have to conclude that we have
optimized our biological apparatus for that type of communication.
Kock argues that a lot of today?s electronic communications takes us too
far away from face-to-face communication, and requires increased cognitive
effort on our part. "For example, a telephone allows us to use tone of
voice," says Kock. "It?s synchronous, so we have immediate feedback on
what we say."
But, Kock points out, since the telephone doesn?t allow one person to see
the other, a bit more cognitive effort is required when communicating over
the telephone, as opposed to face-to-face. "Now, if we go to e-mail,
there?s considerably more cognitive effort required than over the
telephone," he says.
Kock did a study in which he compared twenty groups performing complex
tasks--ten groups interacting by face-to-face, and the other ten via
e-mail. The study indicates that the amount of time cognitive effort
(measured as "time") required to convey a certain number of ideas via
email is between 5 and 15 times than required to convey the same ideas in
a face-to-face conversation.
"In a typical conversation, we exchange hundreds, maybe thousands, of
words. If you measure the time it takes for that conversation to take
place, and then try to have the same conversation over e-mail and measure
the time that takes, you would get a time that is considerably higher than
the face-to-face conversation," he says.
Kock contends that it is our innate schemas that make us view it as more
difficult to communicate through any medium other than face-to-face. "We
have optimized our biological communication apparatus for face-to-face
communications," he continues. "As we move away from it, the more
cognitive effort is needed."
Man?s ability to learn, which is the highest in the animal kingdom, may
eventually serve as a counterbalance to our predisposition to use
"In other words, if we use e-mail for very complex communications for
many, many years, and we avoid face-to-face communications, obviously,
we?re going to become good at using e-mail for that type of
communications," says Kock. "But our predisposition toward face-to-face
communications won?t go entirely away."
Where is this leading us? Kock believes to the point that we are trying to
make electronic communications as close to face-to-face as we can.
He points out that some successful online companies like LivePerson.com
are developing technologies that give a company?s online customers the
impression that they?re dealing with a live person over the Web.
"What is the reason for that?" questions Kock. "The reason is because we
tend to spend less cognitive effort in communications activities when we
have face-to-face like interactions. Even if those face-to-face-like
interactions are virtual."
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