Activities for FYF 101J
16 September 2009

Communicating Effectively by Digital Media


Today's session will have two objectives:

1. To briefly discuss digital communication issues facing undergraduates.

2. To apply the brainstorming technique you learned last week to have you identify strategies that will either enable you to send effective e-mail messages or use social networking sites that comply with accepted standards of etiquette.

Communicating using digital media

Before the early 1990s, students wishing to communicate with others had several choices: they could meet face-to-face, call them on a land-line telephone, or send them a letter.  The popularization of the Internet in the early '90s changed the landscape of communication.  The first change involved the establishment of email, where students could sit at a computer and send electronic messages to friends, family, and others.  One advantage of using email was that the user could attach files for others to see.  Another was that messages could be sent to multiple recipients, obviating the need to send repeated messages to different individuals.  Though the benefits of email over conventional forms of communication are many, the development of the new technology had downsides.  They included problems with asynchrony, spam, unintended dissemination, misunderstandings and misinterpretations between senders and receivers, and email overload.

The next change, popularized in the late 1990s, involved the development of Instant Messaging which allowed two individuals to have virtual conversations.  IM had the benefit of allowing users to communicate synchronously.  The disadvantage was that messages normally had to be kept short, in order to make best use of the synchronous advantage.  To overcome that problem, IM enthusiasts developed their own slang (to save time) and emoticons (to convey emotion)

At the same time, computer and communications hardware changed to become smaller and more portable.  One feature made increasingly common on cell phones by the year 2000 was Text Messaging.  Using alphanumeric keypades available on all phones, and eventually standard keyboards on most advanced phones, people could send text messages to others.  One benefit was instant communication without need for a computer.  Another was that two people could communicate in situations where a voice-based discussion was not possible.  Disadvantages include distraction and the need to keep messages short.

Communication changed again in the early part of the decade by the development of Social Networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook.  Both sites allowed users to post information to the Internet for all to see, representing a feature of Web 2.0.  Users could post information about themselves (including images, music, and other files), communicate with friends, link to other sites, and disseminate blogs.  By 2006, both MySpace and Facebook became overwhelmingly popular with undergraduates. 

Issues regarding social networking sites

Undergraduates should be aware of some of the dangers and etiquette associated with social networking sites. They include privacy issues, bullying, sexual predation, and posting information harmful to one's future career. Here are some links to articles that review a few of the issues:

Using email effectively

Knowing how to compose, read, reply to, and forward e-mail messages is only part of being a successful user of this relatively new communication medium. Of equal importance is the fact that an entire set of rules, conventions, and styles has evolved relating to e-mail messages. Part of the reason for their development is that e-mail represents mode of communicating that is more formalized than spoken language, yet not as formalized as paper-based written communication.

Most e-mail users acquire a tacit understanding of what's effective (and even allowable) over the course of several years, by reading hundreds of e-mail messages and seeing the good, the bad, and the ugly in practice. Not surprisingly, numerous websites have been developed that discuss appropriate and effective e-mail practice. A few of these include:


In the next part of today's session, you will work in a team setting to develop a paper that outlines either: (1) the most important practices relating to the effective use of e-mail, or (2) guidelines for effective and appropriate use of social networking sites. The paper (actually an annotated list) will include a series of ten practices that are most important in communicating effectively by e-mail. Each item should consist of a 5-10 word phrase, followed by 2-4 sentences of explanation.

Directions for the assignment are given here

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