We are very good at choosing the right means of communication depending on the need and the choices available to us. And we have a surprising range of options available. How have these options affected the way we communicate?

A recent Swiss study conducted by Stefana Broadbent, who studies the economic and social aspects of telecommunications, says that:

Each new channel or media that appears slowly redefines the uses of the older existing media…: IM is currently redefining usage of short messaging; blogging is redefining the usage of e-mail; VoIP is changing the nature of a phone call. New patterns of communication emerge slowly, stabilize for a period, and then change again when new channels come along.

But how? See her explanation:

• The fixed phone is the collective channel: “a shared organizational tool for the whole household,” with most calls done in “public,” because they are relevant to other members of the household. Only 25% are done “privately,” from one’s bedroom or study.

• Mobile voice is “the micro coordination channel”: It is “the preferred channel for last-minute adjustment of plans or updates on where people are and what they are doing.” Surprisingly, “80 percent of all exchanges are with only four people.”

• SMS, or short messaging, is “for intimacy, emotions, and efficiency. Only the most intimate sphere of friends and family are contacted by SMS, and the content of the messages is often related to ‘grooming’ and emotional exchanges.”

• E-mail is “the administrative channel,” used to support online activities such as travel reservations and shopping, for coordination with extended social groups (clubs, friends, acquaintances), or for exchanging pictures, music, and other content with close social networks.

• IM and VoIP are “the continuous channels”: “users open an instant messaging channel for the day and then just keep it open in the background while they do other activities; they multitask—and step in and out of a conversation.” This starts to apply to VoIP as well (think Skype).

• Blogging is the broader networking channel: “Personal pages are often primarily a center of communication with friends and people online in general.”

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