Shrinking World

by Deeba Rahman

In this age, the world is rapidly shrinking and technology is allowing us all to simultaneously access identical information from different locations. It is phenomenal how people can communicate with each other while connected only by computers. Today, online media has shortened the time span of international communication to a matter of seconds. According to Internet World Stats, on Sept. 18, 2006 the Internet was used by 16.71% of the world population. The increase of Internet usage has brought with it a mixture of new settings and concerns that affect how the world interacts within cyberspace. It has become a melting pot of different languages, cultural values, laws, regulations, and individual expectations. These factors need to be considered while using the online media to network with people of different cultures around the globe.

Language is the key factor for communication. The English language is being used globally to communicate through online media. While most people are using the same language to interact, not everyone is communicating with the same cultural values and understanding. Effective communication with people of different culture is especially challenging. There are no established procedures or rules for us to follow to be efficient communicators across cultures. The Internet has caused an explosion in the variety of communication methods and has opened an extraordinary level of communication without boundaries. This is causing an unprecedented possibility for misinterpretation and misunderstanding. Any kind of communication we engage in has our cultural values intermingled in it. Culture teaches us values and principles that direct our thoughts and actions toward anything we encounter. This cultural understanding dictates the way we learned how to speak, write, and interact with others. It creates a challenge in understanding each other. To improve our understanding we need to acknowledge cultural differences and how communication differs across cultures. We need to apply that understanding to improve relations between members of different cultures.

It can also be said that the on-line media is also influencing people to take on new habits from other cultures. Consider the following simple scenario that Satinder Gill, talks about in his article "The Cultural Interface: The Role of Self." Usually, in Japanese culture, everyone addresses their colleagues at work by their last name. When communicating via email they tend to address their colleagues by their first name, which they do not normally do in person (1). Here we can see how online communication changes how Japanese communicators address each other differently online rather than face-to-face. This is just one example of global communication causing unconscious changes to occur in users' communication styles.

Recently at work, I had to communicate with a domain service provider, PeWeb, a Portuguese company. Theo, the representative I worked with, resided in Puerto Rico and communicated with everyone through instant messenger. His native language is Portuguese. When I chatted with him on-line in English, he was offended when I asked for some assistance with their system. He was taking it as a personal attack of his ability to provide service and threatened to block all services. Finally, I had to call him on the phone and describe the issue to resolve it. He apologized for his behavior over misinterpreting my questions. As we can see from this example, even when we are using the same language to communicate, the same words can have different meanings to people from different cultures. When languages are different and translation has to be used to interact, the potential for misunderstanding increases.

I frequently run into communication issues with my peers at work. I have been living in the U.S. for seven years, and still some words do not portray the same meaning to me as they do to people over here. When I started my job, I was given a project, and in an e-mail communication I wrote, "I am working on resolving the problem. I will keep you posted with my findings. In the meantime, if you have any further problems please feel free to contact me again." The word "problem" created a big situation in my department. My manager and my co-workers thought the word "problem" sounded negative and that I should use "issue" instead. I explained to them that where I come from, Bangladesh, "issue" sounds very harsh. It makes me feel as if I am attacking someone personally. I did change the word, but it still does not make much sense to me. My values and cultural knowledge will always play a major role. The only thing I can do is adapt and embrace different cultural values.

On-line communication is reducing the conventional barriers of distance as we utilize cyberspace to exchange information on a global scale. It is also pushing everyone to grow in understanding of how different cultural values can play a role in online communication. This is crucial for the business world to adapt to. Communication in cyberspace can be unconsciously affected by cultural values. This factor can affect how different countries engage in online communications. All of these issues can play a positive or negative role in our life. If we do not pay attention to potential misunderstanding, then we are more likely to become victims of miscommunication. It will take more than just awareness to overcome these issues and communicate online across culture. It is up to everyone to embrace the differences and learn from them.


Works Cited:

Gill, Satinder. "The Cultural Interface: The Role of Self". NTT Basic Research Lab. 26 Sept. 2006.
<http://www.it.murdoch.edu.au/~sudweeks/catac98/pdf/20_gill.pdf>.

"Internet World Stats." Internetworldstats.com. 25 Sept. 2006
<http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm>.


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