Reign Of Error, Reign Of Terror: Part 2

COVID-19, Communication, And Technology
Rynio Productions/
Summary: While challenges of interacting responsibly during a pandemic are evolving, it is important to encourage people to ask questions and maintain open lines of communication with each other. Implementing best communication practices helps everyone connect more effectively and maturely, not only during a pandemic but also in normal times.

COVID-19, Communication, And Technology

Part 2 of the topic looks at how the pandemic has focused on communication issues and considers the implications of ignoring these in trying to solve world problems. Greater awareness and knowledge of communication processing, production, and performance elements leads to improved interactions and behaviors as the key to reducing error and terror that ruins lives.

Pandemic Issues

During the pandemic, with people on lockdown and unable to meet face to face, technology has been a life-line for enabling connectivity. Email, social media, and video conferencing have become normal for both work and social exchanges. My family has Zoom crossword sessions twice weekly to keep us updated with group gossip! Communication might be verbal, written, and electronic like texts, emails, telephone calls, teleconferencing, voicemails, and occasionally hand-written notes/reports. These communications have varying impacts than do face-to-face meetings and are permanent, recorded, and easily searchable (Sage, 2020).

I know a student-teacher who put on Facebook that he was having a tough time at school. A staff member saw it and he was sacked from his placement and university course. This was a misunderstanding, as nothing negative was said about the school or blame made, but a suggestion he was personally finding teaching difficult. In a university faculty, we collected 3,000 emails in a term that had been misunderstood. Then a student session took place on contextualizing messages for understanding when immediate, on-going clarification is impossible. We have all sent emails as a joke, which were taken literally by the recipient. Imagine if this happens in a work situation. In today’s sensitive environment, communications get misinterpreted with negative results.

Messages must be introduced with a phatic* comment. On a communication course, I had a surgeon moaning that his emails were often ignored. Viewing them, they were bald messages with no humanity conveyed. I suggested he prefaced them with a friendly comment. Meeting 6 months later, he fed back that this had made all the difference with now very few non-responses. Reviewing a message for context and content, think about tone. Is there a chance the communication seems out of touch given present economic and social conditions? Research in Class Talk (Sage, 2000) showed how phatic communion has flown out of the window now life has "hotted-up." Without this pleasantry, we feel cheated and react negatively to communication. I had a Ph.D. student researching this topic, finding 80% of communications lacked phatic content.

A Third Age Trust survey (2019) found that over-60s face a constant barrage of name-calling, insults, and patronizing language, with 63% saying this happens publicly to embarrass them. Youngsters consider such language "banter" but the words are received as "insults." This shows the importance of awareness of how language and communication can exclude people. Sharing and creating ideas, refining social capacity, respecting different ages, cultures, beliefs, and interests are primary to effective communicative experiences in plural societies.

Implications For Underdeveloped Communication

Profound psychological implications result from underdeveloped communication. Conversely, effective communication brings a higher life quality and is basic to effective relations. Communicating well enables people to know and ask for needs, resulting in self-efficacy and lower instances of bullying, self-destructive, and depressive behaviors (Matteucci, 2020). Those suffering from hearing impairments reveal depression and loneliness because of communication difficulties. These are now common, resulting from stress producing high cortisol levels that interfere with hearing development (Sage 2020, McGregor, 2020). Communication deficits hinder the human need to engage, resulting in social and emotional problems. We are hard-wired to belong and connect with fellow humans (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

If a child cannot communicate needs, a tantrum is likely. An older one shows frustration and a teenager produces a squall. When adults cannot understand or state needs their lives can easily fall apart. Everyone benefits from taking communication seriously and presently we desperately need effective contact with those around us. It is a habit that must start young. Elizabeth Negus (2020) shows from her experience and research how bringing together the arts and sciences in education and using literature to reflect on the messages in both fiction and faction brings knowledge and confidence in communicating effectively.

Effective communication equips children with the ability to have needs met. As they age, these must increase to cope with difficult situations. In school and social contexts, peers play a vital role in how communication competencies develop relationships. It is essential to model effective talk strategies, but sadly these are not always experienced in life or online events.

Communication ability is needed for survival. However, something as important as eye contact, enabling people to connect and maintain discourse, can be difficult, especially in cultures where this is not appropriate. In the West, eye contact makes social connections and demonstrates good manners. When communicating well, people pursue opportunities with confidence and self-efficacy. It is never too late to learn effective communication.

Technology is now deeply integrated into life, and we cannot escape it (Bertling, 2020). Doctors conduct virtual appointments online and even three-year-olds handle phones, iPads, and open apps. Despite technology immersion in all life spheres, there is evidence of it contributing to a decline in communicating well. World studies of bullying behavior demonstrate how this has increased and exacerbated, demonstrating limited communication strategies of abusers and victims (Matteucci, 2020). Cobello and Milli (2020) show how robots improve communication. As this approach brings miles of smiles, it is effective for diminishing bullying and enabling positive interactions.

Some adults retain social and communication competencies acquired before the rapid rise of technology. However, it has been shown that devices inhibit the development of these crucial abilities, needed to learn successfully, obtain and keep jobs, as well as become contributing members of society. The popularity of technology communication, in various mediums, has escalated during the pandemic making it vital to highlight this trend. The technology rise will continue to escalate and increase its negative effects on communication and society.


While challenges of interacting responsibly during a pandemic are evolving, it is important to encourage people to ask questions and maintain open lines of communication with each other. Implementing best communication practices helps everyone connect more effectively and maturely, not only during a pandemic but also in normal times. We need to take communication processes, presentations, and performances more seriously if intent on improving relationships and seeking a more peaceful world. The importance of understanding different cultures and their communicative customs is vital, and Negus (2020) demonstrates how increasing the literature range in educational contexts assists understanding of others and the world we live in. It is notable that geniuses have a strong arts and sciences background as this is needed to become effective 21st-century citizens.

There is concern that social media negatively impacts society and communication. A psychology study by The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), validates this. Scientists discovered that 6th graders spending 5 days without smartphones, television, or other digital screens did considerably better at reading human emotions than classmates spending hours on electronic devices daily (Wolpert 2014). Findings indicated fewer errors from children attending camp after 5 days were the same across genders. The groups tested, both ones attending camp and those not, reported spending an average of 4.5 hours daily watching television, playing video games and texting (Wolport 2014).

This research indicates that the less time spent participating in face-to-face communication, the more social issues that children develop. Stressing the importance of developing communication abilities helps them to respect others and behave appropriately in interactions. Rising crime, learning difficulties, and mental health crises are to a large extent influenced by limited communication and the social and economic problems caused. While many people are excited about digital media benefits in education, not all are looking at the risks that come with it.

Patricia Greenfield, UCLA Professor of Psychology, believes:

Decreased sensitivity to emotional cues—losing the ability to understand the emotions of other people—is one of the costs. The displacement of in-person social interaction by screen interaction seems to be reducing social skills. (Wolpert 2014; p 14).

Social competence is part of the communicative process although often viewed separately to linguistic abilities in enabling interaction. David Shariatmadari (2020) suggests it is nonsense to complain that English is deteriorating under the influence of new technology, adolescent fads, and loose grammar. He quotes Douglas Adams (2005 p. 2) on technology:

  • "Anything in the world when born is normal and ordinary and just a natural way the world works.
  • Anything invented between when you are 15 and 35 is new, exciting, and revolutionary.
  • Anything invented after you are 35 is against the natural order of things."

Although there is truth in this, Shariamdari’s discussion revolves around the structure of language not its social use. Undoubtedly, this has been transformed by technology. The Queen recalls changes over her long reign. In the beginning, when exiting her car on a visit, the crowd would clap, cheer, shouting pleasantries and words of welcome. Now, when this happens, there is complete silence, because everyone is using phones to record the occasion. This is understandable but demonstrates behavior variations. Older people interpret this as rudeness and discourtesy, ignoring the Queen and failing to ask if a picture/video is in order. Change is natural and brings benefits but we must be aware of what is lost in the process. At school, I was told every positive has a negative and the latter must be dealt with appropriately. Communication is our most important human development, but in some respects, changes have brought terror and error, which must be examined and eliminated.

This article is part of a two-part series, read Part 1


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