Table of Contents
This is the second installment of our two-part series on digital communication (you can read part 1 here). In this post, we’ll be looking at challenges in digital communication, its social/emotional aspects, and the importance of being a good digital citizen.
To recap what we’ve already discussed, digital communication is the use of tools like blogs, email, social media platforms, or text messaging to convey specific messages. Like other aspects of digital literacy, it can have Cognitive, Technical, and Social/Emotional aspects. The technical aspects encompass the basic skills necessary to use the various platforms, while the cognitive aspects are those that pertain to skills such as problem-solving. Finally, the social/emotional aspects are things like following each platform’s rules of etiquette as well as general good behavior.
Challenges in digital communication
While the Internet allows us to communicate with a vast audience, this presents unique challenges. The ways in which we communicate are heavily influenced by our cultural norms. In America, for example, people often interact in a spirit of informality. People address each other by their first names, even in the office, and a co-worker they never see outside of work can still be called a ‘friend.’ In German-speaking countries, on the other hand, that kind of behavior would traditionally be seen as quite forward. Of course, cultural issues can be present even when you’re creating content for a domestic audience. In America, gendered language was once the norm. In many cases, this meant that masculine terms were the default, but the past several decades have seen a greater embrace of gender-neutral language (e.g., using ‘chair’ instead of ‘chairman’). Even imagery can give rise to cultural tensions. The Cleveland Indians baseball team used a caricatured depiction of a Native American as their logo for many years. The logo was abandoned in 2018, and the team itself has been known as the ‘Cleveland Guardians’ since 2021.
As a result, cross-cultural communication can be tricky. Sometimes, localization is the answer. This refers to the process of adapting content for different cultural or geographic audiences (at the same time, it’s worth remembering that cultural groups are not monolithic blocks). On the most basic level, this might mean adding u’s to words like ‘favor’ and ‘color’ for content aimed at countries influenced by British English or substituting ‘kilometers’ for ‘miles.’ But localization can also require more substantial changes. For example, many Indigenous Australians have mourning protocols that discourage the use of a deceased person’s name or image. The American Management Association has come up with eight things that can help you communicate across the cultural divide.
Social/emotional aspects of digital communication
One of the problems with digital communication is that it’s often shorn of the contextual clues that help us decode meaning in our everyday lives. For example, if you tease a friend by calling them an idiot in person, your tone of voice and facial expression will convey the fact that your comments aren’t meant to be meanspirited. But in text form, it can feel cruel. Emojis are one way to address this issue. This isn’t foolproof, however, as different people can interpret the same emoji in different ways. For example, the emoji of a smiley face laughing so hard that tears are coming out of their eyes can be interpreted as an expression of sadness rather than joy.
Digital citizenship: embracing digital etiquette
One of the reasons why it’s so important to be mindful of the social/emotional aspects of digital communication is that careless words can have a poisonous effect on online discourse. Anyone who has spent any time on social media or in the comment section of an article will know how cruel netizens can be. Of course, their online persona may bear little resemblance to their offline persona. A person who would never dream of raising his voice in anger might think nothing of uttering casual death threats during a heated online argument. They may think this doesn’t matter, that they’re just blowing off steam. But words said in cyberspace can cast shadows that extend into the real world.
That’s why it’s vital that we be good digital citizens. Digital citizenship is essentially the way we behave online, something that’s also known as ‘netiquette.’ Being a good digital citizen is ultimately about treating others like we’d like to be treated. The acronym RAPID can also help us model the right kinds of behavior:
- Respectful: always act like your mother is watching.
- Authentic: remember that everything you do online reflects your personal ‘brand.'
- Positive: the things we do in cyberspace can last a very long time, so it pays to be kind and good-humored.
- Intelligent: the Internet gives us access to unparalleled information. Use it.
- Distinctive: make sure your message fits the medium (i.e., don’t post walls of text to Instagram).
Communication is a major component of the human experience. But while anyone can do it, doing it well requires a level of finesse. Make sure you’re using the right platform for your message, and make sure you’re drawing your audience in with a compelling story. But you also need to make sure that you’re communicating with authenticity and cultural sensitivity, and you should always strive to display good digital citizenship. All of these things will help you display the agility necessary to thrive in the ever-evolving digital landscape.