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Smith: Technology shouldn’t get in the way of good communication skills

POSTED: January 13, 2008 5:04 a.m.

You are the grandparents of two "Generation X" children. One is Dick, age 14, and the other is Jane, who is 16 years old.

One of the two darlings has mentioned to you that there are only 28 shopping days until Christmas, as if you had not already guessed that such a holiday was in the offing since advertising for this day began in September. Not wanting to ruin your reputation of being doting grandparents, you ponder about what Santa Claus will leave under the tree for Dick and Jane.

Perhaps it will be a personal computer or cell phone. What terrific ideas! And when they open their gift on Christmas morning, the pair are happy beyond belief.

As Dick and Jane talk about who will have control of the mouse, e-mail codes, text messaging and software, you offer the pair a bit of your sage advice about the challenging future of communicating through technology.

Obviously, with the dual roles of grandmother as well as a retired English teacher, it is important that you remind the pair about spelling, grammar and composition.

Dick and Jane listen, but silently think to themselves, why worry? We have our own language that we use. Who needs spell check? Grandmothers are called grand for a reason. One of the qualifications of having this title is that you have probably seen and heard most all of the philosophy that teenagers practice.

Tactfully and wisely you remind Dick and Jane that spell check is a wonderful tool. But while spell check is a wonderful accessory with useful alternatives, which correction will you choose if you did not know how to spell the word in the first place?

As Dick and Jane marvel at grandmother’s keen insight, grandfather adds to the lesson. Being a retired communications professor, he emphasizes to the duo another thought.

While e-mail and text messaging are meeting instant gratification needs, it is critical that they remember the essence of communication.

Never take for granted that whoever you are sending a message to will always understand your meaning. The use of a computer or cell phone can easily cause you to take shortcuts while composing your message. Imagine yourself receiving this information. Would the intent or purpose be clear or vague to you?

Dick and Jane are reminded about two other points. When sending a message via a computer, you are creating a permanent copy for the person receiving your mail if they desire to keep it.

In addition, others who were not supposed to read its content may see the message that you write. Be careful about what you input to your computer or cell phone.

J.C. Smith is a consultant for the Gainesville district office of the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center, 770-531-5681; e-mail, His column appears Tuesdays and at


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