Do we now need to redefine the term: “communication” And what does it actually mean to do so?


I remember a time when people had to learn how to write with a pen and paper.  There were no computers.  There were no cell phones.  There were rotary phones. Some phone numbers would begin with words like “hunter…”  There was the mailman who does still come and deliver real letters.  There was nothing called e-mail or a fax machine to send paperwork to others. Things moved at a slower pace. The world was much less connected.  Computers and other forms of technology, of course, have changed that……

Can anyone tell me at all what it means to communicate in today’s world?  I’m trying to figure it out because lately, I have gotten so many interpretations. The one sentence answer “speak” is the most often heard answer but is this really the case.???  I’ll be on the subway and say “excuse me” but nobody hears me when I am trying to get off the train.  Earbuds get in the way of hearing speech and fewer people seem to speak.   Another answer to my question was that to communicate is “the ability to interact with others”.  I really like that one!

I sincerely mean that I want to hear your answers to this question because I am wondering if those of us in the industry are truly doing our job.  Are we addressing the needs of the people who may walk in and ask for help?.  If you have trouble communicating it seems to me as if there are many more options available.  What are they?  What’s easiest for you or hardest?

These answers will be especially helpful as I discuss this concept with graduate students in a few weeks.  Can this new generation of future professionals add to this list.? We’ll see.  I think the more traditional concepts we learned in graduate school years ago have broadened.  Below are a few examples from my pediatric clientele from this past week:

  • I asked the parents about their concern-why are they asking me to help their child and what does it mean to communicate?.  Their priority was that one-word response “speech”.  The conversation continues. I ask the parent if there are any other ways that his child may let him know that she wants something and he said that she will show him what she wants by pointing to it. I remind him – “that is a form of communication too..isn’t it?   The dad stopped for a second and says he agrees.
  • Another family visit and the child is learning how to Facetime.  Check it out in my tags.  Now, how old are the children using this app???
  • Another family visit and all of a sudden I hear a noise. “What is that?” I ask because nothing seemed to have provoked the sound. I notice that the child has dad’s i-phone and has looked at the icons. The child discriminated between the icons.  She had located Elmo. The child demonstrated that she understood cause and effect behavior by recognizing that if the icon was tapped with her pointer finger that Elmo would make noise and move. Finally, she was very obviously happy with what had happened.  She ran over and picked up Elmo so that she could play with the doll.

If we want a child to learn to speak, how could this last scenario have been replayed?. If dad’s i-phone had not been present, would the same behavior occur?  Languages are lost if we do not use them



The above chart from the University of Liverpool illustrates the differences between age groups.  We are really are what I would term to be global communicators; in that, we use a variety of communication forms.  That has good and bad sides to it.  The need to be generationally intelligent becomes necessary for all of us if we are going to get along.  Why?  It’s important since the presence of a digital world has made these differences even more pronounced than they ever have been.  The differences are also permanent. Technology is not going away any time soon and is changing every day quite rapidly.

Jean Twenge gives a great deal of insight about the concept I am introducing.  She discusses the differences in how people are living, looking at longitudinal studies that she has conducted. Her latest book documents this:  Sadly, she notes that those who are born in an age of smartphones and the internet are not as happy as a result of the social isolation of many digital natives.  Wouldn’t this now point to the need for increased and easier access to mental health care?

Technology has an impact on mental and physical health as well.  This has had positive as well as negative effects  Only you understand how you individually are being affected or not.   It is interesting to think about and then consider if there are any issues that impact on your life.  How are you communicating with other people? How much technology are you using? What types and how much during the day?  If you are old enough to know a world in which there was no internet how has your life changed?  I would be interested in hearing from readers about your thoughts and for anyone reading this post to consider.  Thanks for your help!

Dr. Andreas Hoff (2012) Generational Intelligence: A Critical Approach to Age Relations By Biggs, S., and Lowenstein, A., Journal of Intergenerational Relationships, 10:3, 304-308, DOI: 10.1080/15350770.2012.698975.