For itself, modern technology makes a tremendous contribution to the effectiveness of the process of communication and considerably eases up the ancillary activities which we studied in Unit 2 of this Module One. The process of communication and technology in communication both function in the modes of oral and written communication.
You will need about three hours for studying the unit. As with other units, do the Self-Assessment Exercises (SAEs) very carefully and also answer the Tutor-Marked Assignment and send your answers as directed to your tutor.
The Process of Communication
The process of communication attempts to conceptualise and define what actually transpires in each of, and between, the communicator and the communicant when they communicate. To make communication effective, communicators (such as supervisors) have a need to understand this process of communication, i.e., what actually happens when a piece of communication takes place, so that they can appreciate the enormity of what could go wrong (the risks of misinformation – the barriers to effectiveness of communication) in any piece of communication.
Technology in Business Communication
Business Communication Equipment
An expression which everyone has become familiar with is Information Technology (IT). By this expression we mean that modern electronic technology is now applied in practically all activities in the lives of human beings: in medicine, in engineering, in parliaments, in many aspects of home life (including the preparation and serving of food), in several other activities and, of course, in most aspects of business activities (typing, recording and retrieving of different kinds of material, internal and external communication, and so on). In this discussion, we are placing particular emphasis on the use of modern technology in communication within the business environment.
When we consider what the computer is used for in the office of today. We are inclined to think that the use of technology in the office is of recent origin. However, we ourselves do recall the telegram and cable technology and the telex (the technology of which has become absorbed into the working of the microcompressor – the essential component of the computer), and we are aware of the distant origins of the telephone and the facsimile (fax), the latter of which is still in use in modern communication.
Besides, Evans (1984:36-37) offers an elaborate (what he calls) time chart on the development of information technology, dating from pre-3,500 B.C. when, according to him, “signs and speech were developed (note this broad interpretation of information technology) to the 1980s when developments in information “technology [were proceeding] apace with anticipated inventions in such directions as more powerful microprocessors; area networking for electronic mail, etc.; experimental work on voice input into computers; ‘wristwatch TV’; improved ‘bubble’ memory for microcomputers; fibreoptic transmission of messages; work with electronics at ‘faster than light speeds’ and widening of information technology education in Great Britain, [and, of course, in other countries] from primary schools upwards”. When we recall that Evans published his book in 1984 – 24 years ago – we look around to see whether these predictions of his have been accomplished. When we do this, we realize that, perhaps with the exception of “voice input into computers” (which is not unlikely to have been achieved in some countries, such as Japan), practically all the other projections have been accomplished in the electronically sophisticated office of today, even in our own country.
Many writers who discuss communication (see, for example, besides Evans, Bel-Molokwu, 2000:22-29) feel obliged to list and describe the machines which form the components of communication technology. So, one finds on such lists such items as the following:
- The Facsimile (Fax): This is the machine which sends graphic written material (messages, pictures, diagrams, etc.) electronically by radio, telephone or telegraph to a determined destination, complete with addresses, signatures and any other details on the paper. Added elements can enable such machines to have such other facilities as automatic line check (to select the best line or channel for the transfer in order to maintain copy quality); polling (by which stored message is transferred when the line is free); answer back (by which transmitting and receiving telephone numbers are printed in addition to the message), local document copying (a photocopying component), and restricted access (limiting access through the use of secret codes).
- The Electric Typewriter: This has largely gone out of use. Because of being electrically controlled, it entailed less physical labour for the typist to operate and it produced clearer, print-like typescripts. It has developed into its modern form of what some people call the “stand-alone” computer which, through the use of a keyboard (with all the devices of a computer and perhaps a visual display screen) can produce, store and reproduce information in a standard printing format.
- The Telephone (with which everyone is familiar), through which voice (vocal or oral) messages are sent far (indeed, worldwide) or near (among persons in an office or building). Installation of a telephone system within an establishment may be by a private automatic branch exchange (P.A.B.X.), which allows internal or external calls to be made to the public network without going through a switchboard operator, or by a private manual branch exchange (P.M.B.X.) requiring that calls be directed through a switchboard operator. The cellular (mobile) telephone is an early diversification of the telephone into a wireless machine using an inter-connection of radio transmitters, each with limited coverage, to reach their destinations. Continuing development of the telephone has led to the invention of the digital telephone which now employs microprocessors (a network of digital circuit which is the primary element of the computer) for transmitting messages. The enormous range of functions which telephones can now perform (photographing, music, TV, transmission of photographs, etc.) is largely an outcome of the use of the microprocessor technology.
- The Photocopier and the Scanner. We are familiar with these. The photocopier makes a single copy or a few or numerous copies of documents in black and white or in colour, while the scanner rapidly copies documents for re-printing in clear copies without the use of a photocopier. Scanning is an important piece of technology which used to be employed in the telex system and is currently enormously employed in the computer system for use in sending e-mail messages. The relevant scanning machine in each case converts messages into forms in which the digital circuits in relevant systems can convert the message into the machine codes which the system can transmit and re-convert into analog signals for printing.
- The Computer: We all now recognize the computer (which is at present in about five degrees of sophistication – this is what experts refer to as Pentiums 1-5). It now carries out almost unimaginable functions: when data are conveyed into it and a piece of instruction is programmed into it through the keyboard, it does complicated calculations at lightening speed, stores or releases (prints) results, re-orders material and, as everyone can now see, carries out an almost infinite range of activities in more or less every field of human activity. This is why it is increasingly called a “brain”. Many writers make a point of listing and describing its components as the following:
(i) The Visual Display (VDU) Unit: The screen which displays both work in progress and material from the computer’s memory – material which may be required for inspection, viewing, study or printing (the last of which is described as “downloading).
(ii) The Central Processing Unit (CPU): The primary component of the computer, which acts as its memory and ‘brains’, processing material keyed in through the keyboard, reproducing material earlier recorded in various components of the computer or displaying material recorded on a floppy disc or on a diskette, and performing numerous other functions.
(iii) The Keyboard (often referred to as the ‘Qwerty’ keyboard, i.e., having the standard layout on English-language typewriters on which the letters q, w, e, t and y are the first keys on the top row of the keys). The typing or typesetting work is carried out here.
(iv) The Functional Keys: These form the primary difference between computers and some electric typewriters on one hand, and the standard typewriter, on the other hand. It is with these keys that the computer is ‘instructed’ or ‘commanded’ to carry out its near-infinite functions: delete, capitalize, italicize, embolden, etc.
(v) The Printer: The unit which prints hard (paper) copies of material displayed on the screen from the keyboard or from records.
The question which arises from this identification of the machines which constitute modern information technology is: how much of this does a standard office worker need to know?
Obviously, every worker ought to be able to recognize all these machines, know the functions which they perform and be able to make, at least, basic use of the more common facilities, such as the telephone. On the other hand, we might say that acquiring the ability to use any of them depends on need, but the trend in recent times has been to regard these machines as everyday equipment for social and business life and to expect everyone to understand their use, at least up to a certain level. That is why the expression, ‘computer literacy’ has become so popular. In developed societies and in some developing ones, most people acquire the typing skill from primary and/or secondary school and the telephone (both in its earlier analogue form and in its current digital form) has been a common companion to life. In many public utilities such as supermarkets in developed and in some developing societies, the facsimile (fax) machine, the photocopier and the computer are displayed for customers to use themselves (paying for the service at the cash counter) without the need for an attendant or an assistant.
We are saying in effect that everyone should be endeavouring to master the operation of the machines which constitute information technology, including being online knowledgeable and sensitive and ready whenever necessary to use the computer to obtain required information. Of course, when it comes to more sophisticated applications of these machines (practically all of them), a large amount of technical training is required. The facsimile (fax) machine can form part of the Internet network in an office; the telephone can now be made to perform functions almost beyond human understanding and the photocopier functions in a range of ways requiring study.
When we now talk of the computer, we know that its capabilities are virtually limitless. The electronic doors into banks and similar precious institutions can refuse you entry if, because you are carrying a large bag, metal objects such as keys and a mobile telephone (these could be guns)
the doors suspect you of going to carry out a robbery. Old works of art, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s “Monalisa”, are now made to speak to explain certain characteristics of their outlook (such as why “Monalisa” – primordial model of European women’s beauty – has no breasts). In many pieces of writing, one is given a mind-boggling account of how a journalist in, say a plane which has lost contact with its radar, manoeuvres to use his laptop to obtain connection with communities of human beings. “Bugging” telephone messages and tapping information from various institutions and individuals are acts perpetrated with the use of electronic gadgets. Also, hospitals, engineering firms and several other s perform intricate activities with the use of electronic equipment. The list is endless.
These are all elements of communication which may be required in a business environment. So, besides the standard uses of the information technology devices, we have to undergo proper training if we want to understand and, perhaps, apply the more sophisticated capabilities of information technology equipment. In other words, we must all become, as said above, online knowledgeable and sensitive and ready to resort to the computer in searching for necessary information, such as locating publications in a library.