Changes in communication over the last 60 years and their significance today. UPDATED March, 2019.


Update: 6th March, 2019.

Since the original post was published on this blog, many things have changed in the area of interpersonal communication. Among these are:

  • The great increase in the use of visual imagery to provide instantly understandable communication. One noticable element of this is the growth of both the range and style of Emojis available that can communicate feelings and emotions rapidly and easily. Web sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, instagram, Pinterest, etc., also contribute to the ease of access to visual information. etc. Obviously, this is due, in part, to the availability of cheap telephones that can connect with the internet with screens that permit the user to see videos, photos, etc., with great clarity in high definition. Cheaper large-screen TVs, cheaper personal computers and “tablets”.

  • The great increase in research in the areas of neurobiology, neuropsychology, psycho physics and other areas about what is more easily processed by the brain in terms of mental processing (Top-down versus Bottom-up), attracting attention, maintaining interest and influencing decision-making.

  • The development of fMRI, eye-tracking technology and other advanced scientific instruments has also helped in developing a greater understanding of what happens, where and when, in the brain.

  • It appears that in many countries, very young children (I have seen some as young as 4 years old) are allowed to use tablets or mobile phones so that their parents are free to use their own phone, tablet or laptop. In other words, our phones / tablets, etc., have become our baby-sitters!

  • All of this indicates that “Attention Curves” have been reduced from around 9 minutes to about 4 – 5 minutes or even less in some cases, depending on the context, content or communication method.

  • Since written text is processed differently from visual imagery in the brain,  it appears that while up to approx 14 linked images can be simultaneously processed & manipulated by “Working Memory” (W.M.), only 3 or 4 chunks of non-visual input can be processed effectively by W.M.

  • There is therefore a greater need for visual communication, especially if we are dealing with younger audiences whether they be students or employees in an organization. The old methods are, unfortunately, generally less effective than they used to be.

school 1950I have spent most of my working life involved in research, teaching, training & being involved in communication-related areas in a range of different countries and have an innate passion for observing what is going on around me. Instead of merely relying on scientific studies for knowledge, I prefer to observe closely, question, consider, re-observe, re-question, reach conclusions, prepare material, test, monitor and review instead of blindly accepting generalized or extrapolated scientific studies in MY area of expertise. classroom.2013

These are some of  the most important changes that I have noted in communication over the last 40 years.

Up to and including the early or mid 1960’s, in many countries, generally our main methods of mass communication were either by books or other written communication; radio; face-to-face spoken language. If you compare school books used in the 1950’s & 60’s to those in use today you will find them radically different: Today’s books are much more visual: colours, images, etc; less dense, and generally more “attractive” to the user.
Also, how many of us, as children, remember sitting at home listening to our favourite radio programmes and how many readers have not had that experience but instead remember watching their favourite kids programmes on the T.V.! In brief, we could define our communication then as being very “Auditive” – see below for a definition.

In the mid 1960’s, with the unprecedented expansion of television: colour vs black & white, more channels, etc.  and, in the 70’s,  the invention of “portable” video cameras & recorders with the first “format” war between Sony (Betamax) and JVC (VHS), there was a massive increase in the amount of visual material available on television and commercially – all available and easily stored on videotape for use later. In other words, the world was becoming less “Auditive” and more “Visual”.

In the 1980’s, home computing entered our lives. Sinclair launched the ZX spectrum computer which brought cheap computing to the masses and created a revolution in the world of computers: ever increasing memory size, capabilities, reduction in costs, etc., with all that that entailed for our channels of communication. The result was a world even more “Visual”.

In the 1990’s, Palm launched the Palm PDA which was the first Personal Digital Assistant that allowed people to store and retrieve all kinds of information: addresses, data, photos, music, calendars & appointments, and so on in a pocket-size device and was a precursor of what was to come in the following years & decades.

From 2000 onwards, we have had an amazing growth in methods of communicating rapidly and effectively: Internet, multichannel tv, video conferencing, webinars, etc. Which has brought us to where we are today – a world which is predominantly “Visual” with all that this implies.

Some other points to consider (in no particular order):
It might prove useful for you, if you consider the implications for each one of them.

Please think about the quantity and types of devices we have for accessing visual material at home. How many TVs, video players, DVD players, Digital video recorders (DVR), gameboys (or similar), laptops, tablets, PCs, smart phones, etc., do YOU have in your house? Who uses them the most?

– There is now access to visual material via smart phones, tablets, laptop PCs, wifi access everywhere, satellite TV, DAB radio, etc., All of these with software designed to increase access to whatever  we want, anywhere, anytime and which can be updated “Over The Air” (O.T.A.) By the owner of the device or the programme producer.

– There appears to an increase in video-conferencing (both “talking Heads” style like Skype and “telepresence” professional systems), due, in part, to the fact that many people prefer to be able to see the other participants in the conversation. Skype (and similar systems) is successful because many devices have built-in video cameras and permits “video-chat” between users while being very easy to use.

– It seems that teleconferences are still popular for virtual teams for their relatively low cost. While cheaper than video conferences, there appears to be a decrease in their use due to the lack of the visual element and dissatisfaction by many users / participants.

– It appears that many people tend to use smart phones, tablets or laptops to entertain themselves while travelling on planes, buses & trains instead of reading “real” books, magazines & papers. What do YOU do while travelling – read a book? Read an ebook? Use a tablet / Smart phone for music or videos? When was the last time you read a newspaper on a regular basis?

– There have also been great changes in teaching materials and techniques in schools & universities. While the traditional “Chalk & talk” professor is still around, many organizations are using much more participative (and interesting) ways to educate students such as case studies and other small-group tasks.

– There is an amazing increase in offers for training & development through the use of on-line courses, seminars, and web sites dedicated to specific types of communication skills.

– It appears that attention spans have markedly decreased over the years due to the influence of visual information. After all, if one picture is worth a 1000 words, why read the 1000 words?

– There is a never-ending stream of video games and devices to play them on for both children and adults. How much time do your children spend playing video games instead of doing other things?

– The incredible growth of social networks such as Facebook, YouTube and similar sites have created a tendency for people to share visual imagery (photos & videos, etc) – especially with younger people.

I could continue with this list. However, I hope this will start you thinking about other elements we could add to it.

I would like to propose that if we apply research from Neuro Linguistic Programming, linguistics and psychology to the process of communication and its changes over the last 60 years, it can greatly enhance our understanding of how we can improve it by applying new & relevant concepts.

In addition, I would suggest that many of the scientific studies done in the area of communication between the 1950’s and 2000 need to be re-evaluated due to the changes discussed in this article.

Very briefly, Neuro Linguistic Programming posits that:
– Everyone has three “Representation Systems” (R.S.) which dictate how we interact in, and with, the world that surrounds us. These R.S. are named : Visual, Auditive & Kinesthetic (also known as: V.A.K.)

– We all also have a preferred, subordinate and less-developed representation systems that we use as appropriate either in our work environment or, alternatively, outside of it. No one is ever 100% V, A or K. – we use each system as, and when, we need it. However the preferred one is the one that we use most frequently and feel most comfortable using.

In this article, the term “Visual” , “Auditive” or “Kinesthetic” refers to people who appear to have this as their preferred Representation System.

A brief, and very general overview of the characteristics of each Representation Systems as applied to communication:

– Visuals: – considered to be around 78% of the population –  This is due to the prevalence of visual input nowadays: Television, video, internet, etc. In general, they are not too worried about change as they live with it every day. They have the capacity to adapt to new ideas & methods more or less rapidly. They do, however, tend to have problems following all the detailed elements required in the implementation of detailed change; new systems, internal & external compliance, etc. They tend to use visually-oriented language: Look, see, visualize, etc. Frequently they are in jobs such as marketing & sales or positions which require creativity. They tend to make decisions rapidly, often without having all the data.

For this reason, many young children are often classified as “educationally challenged” or “Academic Failures”, etc. When we consider that the first few years of life of a baby are dedicated to learning via predominantly visual input and by “playing” as well as not having to worry about eating and obtaining the creature comfort such as clothing and shelter: everything is, or should be, provided for them. We can see that young children would tend to prefer using the visual and kinesthetic channels as it is all that they have known!. However, one day they are taken to a new place, separated from their mothers, put into a group with other children of a similar age and start having to obey the instructions of an unknown adult –  the teacher in school! Soon after starting their school life, they are asked to start thinking & processing information logically & sequentially in terms of reading & writing, etc. This is the children’s introduction to the world of the Auditive: some children adapt more easily than others – especially when influenced by their parents. As we all know, parents are role models for their children ; what the parent’s do, the kids will do so if the parent’s don’t read, the kids won’t!

– Auditives, approximately 12% of the population, tend to have the greatest resistance to change. They love structure, systems, rules, checklists, etc. If it has worked for years, it is difficult to convince them of the need for change. They usually have jobs that require detail, analysis, data, etc. The tend to use auditive- oriented language: Examine, discuss, analyse, study, etc. They tend to have great problems making decisions because they always seem to need one more piece of information. They also tend not to trust their emotions. They love to read “real” books, not electronic ones and usually carry one with them wherever they go.

– Kinesthetics (considered to be about 10% of the population) generally need time to adapt to, and accept, changes. The word “kinesthetics” often includes emotion, touch, taste & smell. They need to feel safe with the planned changes. Everything is black or white, love or hate! For them, the most important part of their work, for them, involves their contact with other people. Everything is evaluated on how it feels to them. They take a long time to make a decision and will not do so until it “feels right”. They tend to use more emotive language: feel, rough, soft, bitter, etc. They are often in people-centred jobs such as nursing; the caring professions such as psychology, physiotherapy, etc. Many sports people, professional chefs, sommelier, hairdressers,  Perfume “noses”, etc., also usually have a kinesthetic preferred system. Many politicians tend to be kinesthetics (reference….)

To personalize this, I am a visually preferred person at work. As a trainer / professional communication, I need to be constantly observing, and reacting to, the verbal and non verbal communication of my audience or interlocutors to ensure clarity in the communication. My subordinate system is kinesthetic in that I tend to respond viscerally about what needs to be done – I do not go into a deep analytical study of how to respond, I just do it! My least developed system now is Auditive: I prefer to obtain my information by a whole range of different sources instead of just depending on written texts.  Having been a university professor for many years, I was, by necessity and training Auditive. When I moved into consulting, I had to become more Visual in my learning / teaching styles.  At home, I am a Kinesthetic preferred, Visual subordinate and Auditive less developed.

(For more information about NLP, please Google it!)

What does all this mean for us today in our communication with others?

1.     As expert communicators, we need to have more knowledge about our own preferred Representation Systems and the skills necessary to use different ways to identify the Representation Systems of our audience: learners, friends, family members, colleagues, etc., so that we can communicate effectively and elegantly with them.

2.     Our learners need to learn how to use the knowledge of Representation Systems as part of the communicative process in the personal & professional lives.

3.     Excellent communicators MUST understand of the needs, wants and lacks of the audience. (See this article for more information: shortlink: )

4.     For effective communication to occur, it is vital that visual material is elegantly linked to auditive input: both verbal &/or  written as well as kinesthetic elements which create an emotional response in our audience.

5.     All learning material should ensure that all the activities and exercises incorporate the use all three representation systems – V.A.K..

6.     If we rely solely on Auditive communication such as written texts or purely oral input, we are depriving our audience of the opportunity to learn through the other representation systems.  ALL communication should be designed

7.     The excellent trainer, presenter, teacher or communicator is one who is expert in providing a “globally accessible message” whatever the preferred learning styles of the audience.

8.    Anyone who hopes to become an excellent communicator in whatever field of endeavour MUST learn how to observe how the learners or audience respond to what they do and react in the most appropriate manner.

Health Warning: This article might cause some people to have an apoplectic fit!
There are people who will take umbrage at the content of this article and probably cite page after page of detailed studies (from the last century or earlier in this century and trying to take one , or various studies  and try to apply it/them globally!) to prove me wrong instead of dedicating an equal amount of time and effort to prove me right! For them, I would be considered a radical who should be burned at the stake for even daring to question the value of scientific studies! Let me be clear: Recent scientific investigations dedicated to the study of  a specific  hypothesis applied to a specific target group, in a specific context, in a specific place and with a significant number of participants to create validity are excellent and useful in THOSE SPECIFIC contexts.

I hope this article has given you food for thought about what you are doing and, if necessary, some ideas on how to improve your communicative skills.

Your feedback would be appreciated.

© Ian Brownlee, Brownlee & Associates, S.L., Madrid, Spain.  November, 2013.

About ianbrownlee

Ian Brownlee, the founder of Brownlee & Associates has been actively involved in the field of interpersonal & transcultural communication since 1977. He has worked in universities and companies in the following countries: Laos, Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, France, Italy, England, The United States of America & Spain, as a teacher, university lecturer, trainer, researcher & consultant. In addition, his experience in living in these countries, and studying the language & communication and interaction styles of each has aided him in reaching a real understanding of intercultural and transcultural differences and how to resolve them. Ian Brownlee has various masters degrees from British Universities: One in Linguistics & Teaching English Overseas from Manchester University, one in Training & Development with a specialization in the area of Communication and Adult learning awarded by the University of Sheffield. He has also gained professional qualifications in Psychotherapy & Hypnotherapy from various professional organizations. During his university career he has also studied elements of Sociology, Organizational psychology, Educational psychology, Psycholinguistics and Kinesics. He is a licensed Practitioner, Master Practitioner, and Master Trainer in NLP. as well as being a trainer in Ericksonian Hypnosis. He is a member of a wide range of professional organizations involved in Training, Applied Psychology, Hypnotherapy & Ericksonian Hypnosis, Psychotherapy, Interpersonal Communication & Cross-cultural Communication. He is also recognized by the Program on Negotiation, Harvard University, as a Negotiation Skills Trainer & Mediator and has been a collaborator on various projects with the program, and as such is in great demand as a negotiation consultant for some of the largest multinationals operating worldwide. His wide experience gained in multinational organizations in positions such as Director of Training, Communications Consultant and Negotiator / Mediator has helped many people to learn and apply new methods of negotiating skills and advanced communication techniques both in their private and professional lives. He has published various articles & books related to the field of interpersonal communication and he is the author of all the courses taught by Brownlee & Associates. He has lived and worked in Spain since 1985, initially as a trainer / Special Assistant in a multinational pharmaceutical company and then as the Training Manager for a multinational company involved in Clinical Analysis & Nuclear Medicine. Brownlee & Associates was formed in 1991 and currently has a small, highly-trained staff. While based in Madrid, courses are given world-wide either in English or Spanish. Brownlee & Associates currently work with leading international companies in the areas of pharmaceuticals , Information systems, luxury products, food & beverages, etc.
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2 Responses to Changes in communication over the last 60 years and their significance today. UPDATED March, 2019.

  1. Great writing, wonderfully insightful. Began with “15 Ways to Work a Room…” and, unfortunately, ran out of time to get past “Changes in Communications…” today…..repeat: TODAY!!

    Although I am not responsible for face-to-face PR anymore, it always pays to remain educated and aware of the best ways to communicate in any given situation. By the way, I’m with you when it comes to scientific studies – they work for what they’re intended but, just because it’s labelled “Science” does not make it the do-all, be-all. Such close minded attitudes sort of denigrate the whole idea of scientific study, yes?!

    At any rate, I have really enjoyed this blog so far and fully anticipate reading more as time allows!

    • ianbrownlee says:

      Thank you very much for your kind words. They have made my day! I hope that the rest of my posts are received in the same manner. I completely agree with you about “science”. 🙂
      Have a great week,
      Best wishes,
      Ian B.

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