When was the last time you (or even someone you know) took a piece of paper and a pen and wrote a letter? If it comes to that, when was the last time you put a stamp on an envelope and took it to the Post Office? When was the last time you paid your bills with a check?
That is just not the way we do things in the 21st century. Nowadays the vast majority of communications are electronic. There are many, many forms of communication, and more and more of them involve the internet.
One tends to think of the internet revolution as a phenomenon of the youngest generation. However, a surprising number of the elderly have embraced the technology and use the internet to keep in touch with family, current friends and to find old friends. Even 80-year-olds are at their computers day in and day out sending emails to long-lost boyfriends, geriatric school friends, past neighbors, and the current generation of family.
Communication is a very broad category. Internet communication includes such areas as:
- social media
- bill payment
- information exchange
In some ways, email is already being supplanted by social media and texting. Email is still the method of communication closest to the old-fashioned pen on paper method. It is still possible to find old-fashioned letters beginning “Dear Mr. Smith” and ending “Yours sincerely”, but this is becoming increasingly rare. Instead, you are likely to see greetings like “Hi, Liz” addressed to a woman called Elizabeth who is completely unknown to the writer. It takes very little effort to begin an email correspondence with a courteous greeting, and to close in a similar fashion. And it is quite acceptable for subsequent exchanges to drop the formalities, and to continue as if this was an on-going conversation.
Chats are the online version of texts, or the 21st century version of telegrams. It has become universally acceptable to use shorthand like u for you and other texting idioms like LOL (laugh out loud). It is not, however, difficult to write in complete sentences and no one will stop chatting with you if you do.
Social media are phenomena that defy explanation. In concept, they are wonderful. Who would not like to have an easy way to communicate with those nearest and dearest, as well as an avenue to find long-lost relatives, friends or colleagues? Unfortunately, a large percentage of social media users have not grasped the fact that anything they post on their page is accessible by the entire world. This is the ultimate form of communication, but do you really want the whole world to know that you flunked your last math test, or that you got wasted last Friday. When making information available to the whole world (including potential employers or spouses) a certain amount of discretion is called for.
Blogs, that is web logs or online diaries, offer the opportunity to share your thoughts and opinions with anyone who wants to read them. You can certainly put your thoughts and ideas out there, but do not be disappointed if very few people read them. Why should they?
Skype, on the other hand, is one of the most amazing developments of the digital age. Using Skype (and other similar services) allows one to communicate with anyone connected to the internet no matter where in the world they are located. If you can find a time when you are online at the same time, it is possible to “chat” with a friend anywhere in the world – free. You can upgrade the communication to a voice call – still free, and upgrade again to a video call, at the click of a button. This is very nearly as good as communicating in person, without the inconveniences of travel.
Forums are usually attached to a website, and they provide a way for users of the website to exchange information about specific topics in a relatively restricted way. For example, a website that offers multi-lingual dictionaries may also have a forum in which users can ask each other questions about idiomatic use of the language, those usages that do not appear in the dictionary.
Shopping is a form of communication. Related to that is customer service. An increasingly few companies have telephone customer service (and if they do, the call center is probably in Bangalore), but email enquiries will be dealt with promptly. Sometimes it is even possible to initiate a person to person dialogue via an internet complaint.
Online banking is not so much a form of communication as a means of avoiding communication. If you can pay bills online, and move money between accounts online, you really don’t need a live person at the bank (except when something goes wrong).
Finally, any kind of information exchange can be considered a form of communication. The internet is the last word in information exchange. It is conceivable (just about) that there is some information that is not available on the internet (because no one has yet thought to post it), but no matter how obscure the information you require, the internet will point you in the right direction.