Does technology enable or determine communication?

Communication technologies, especially those that are participatory, clearly do both, determine and enable communication. They determine communication by function of display possibilities, editing capabilities, information-chunk size allowances, access affordances, cost implications, communicative capabilities (one-to-one, one-to-many, etc.). Clearly, however, these communication technologies enable communication that otherwise would not be possible. Beginning with telegraphic transmission of Morse code all the way to highly participatory Web 2.0 (soon possibly Web 3.0) technologies that have had an egalitarian effect on the ability to publish content by individuals, technology has enabled communication. The transition from print to digital communication has opened floodgates of possibilities for content publication because of the removal of associated economic cost so long determined by the information carrier and associated production and publishing costs.

Electronic and digital publishing technologies also afford authors to publish with ease and very little knowledge of the technology. All of this has had a tremendous egalitarian effect on publishing content. Granted, this egalitarian effect has its limits where people don’t have access to computers. However, this is clearly changing daily, as each day a half million people go on the Internet for the very first time and Internet device manufacturers (computers, smart phones, etc.) are penetrating the emerging markets with devices that are customized to those markets in terms of cost, form factor, and functionality. Hardware manufacturers are actively exploring alternate computing models to suit very specific, sometimes rather small market niches, rather than pursuing a one-size-fits-all model. Additionally, these emerging markets invent their own use models for communication technologies, e.g. the cell phone kiosks in many African countries are taking advantage of their particular regulatory and needs circumstances to create a thriving business model while affording many people access to communication technology.

Communication technologies facilitate and foster possibilities for invention by their users. Every instance of use has the potential to result in invention, promulgated by the ever increasing ease of use of these technologies that allows for instant changes in display, formatting, and recombination of data. Barbara Mirel’s 1996 essay examines the rhetorical and technological strategies needed to create user-centered displays of data tables. While the rhetorical strategies remain intact, today, the technological strategies have changed in terms of ease of use for the creator and for the user. The current focus on user-centered design that is much more dynamic in its ability to allow for easy reformatting and delivery option has lowered the level of technological savvy or expertise needed for use.

Communication technologies’ adoption also is influenced by it’s ability to be the fitting response to a communicative exigence. Can a rhetorical situation be satisfied by the technology or, alternately, does the technology’s availability result in the satisfaction of a rhetorical situation that emerged from this new way of communicating? The blog technology clearly satisfied a communicative need that while present for a long time could not be satisfied with print technology. Micro blogging technologies, such as Twitter, judged by their rapidly increasing adoption rate also appear to have allowed the satisfaction of a particular communicative exigence, namely the communication in short bursts (140 characters max) that often includes the sharing of information via links and the sharing of very personal information that reflects what the writer is currently doing. It satisfies the author’s need for a certain form of exhibitionism, voyeurism, and self-validation that is simply afforded by the knowledge that many people are made aware of one’s current action. It creates ambience awareness for the user, and thus, a sense of community, fulfilling a basic human need while at the same time promulgating it in an addictive manner.


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