The Bottom Line: Technology Is Not Communication.

August 15, 2011
By Maryann Lawlor, SIGNAL Connections
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AFCEA headquarters lost power right in the middle of the production cycle of this issue of SIGNAL Connections. Rumor has it that road construction taking place in the area caused the glitch. Without access to computers and VoIP phones, staff members emerged from their work spaces like bears after hibernation and actually talked to each other face to face.

The incident brought to light an escalating issue that is often ignored: technology is a tool; it’s not communication. More ways exist today for people to correspond with each other than ever before, but the ability to clearly convey a thought, an idea, a directive or even instructions is becoming a lost art. Writing is increasing, while clarity is decreasing. And the nuances gained by in-person discussion are lost in media that cannot express a look of understanding, frustration or confusion even with the help of emoticons. Winking or blushing smiley faces just don’t cut it.

The inability to converse clearly or the unwillingness to push technical tools aside for an hour to meet in person holds serious consequences. On AFCEA's LinkedIn page recently, comments about a speech by Gen. James Cartwright, USMC, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, candidly discussed a lack of adequate communication. Gen. Cartwright cited the persistent purchase of proprietary systems with ramifications that the department doesn’t understand.

These were strong words that the LinkedIn group members picked up on and added their own experiences. Many agreed that problems result from government requirements that are either incorrectly stated or understated from the beginning. One lieutenant from the Netherlands pointed out that this problem is not unique to the United States. He hit the nail on the head: governments' major challenge is to provide a detailed definition of the exact requirements. He added that industry is very happy with every update the procurement agency proposes. Extended contracts and additional business are not likely something they would turn down.

Industry must accept some responsibility in this equation. Repeatedly, government leaders have asked for brief, clear and to-the-point responses to their requests for solutions. Instead, many receive lengthy tomes that describe corporate accomplishments, restate the problem and sometimes offer solutions that are technically still on the drawing board. That’s not effective communication.

Gen. Cartwright spent the last third of his speech on a topic that comes up time and time again: changing the culture. “Sometimes, we talk past each other. It’s just the reality out there,” he said.

The bottom line is this: Technology is not the problem. Learning and relearning how to communicate—both speaking and listening—is.

~Maryann Lawlor


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