Skype-Microsoft Deal Underscores Changing World Culture

Published: 28th July 2011
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The recent purchase of Skype by Microsoft for $8.5 billion draws attention to how Skype and other forms of electronic communication affect the way in which we communicate globally. It also focuses on the rapid shift in cross-cultural communication and our growing awareness of intercultural issues.

Those of us who work across borders recognize how culture impacts the amount of context people need to effectively transmit a thought, and how directly or indirectly they choose to position their thoughts.

Skype and text messaging seem like the perfect medium for cultures such as those of Northern Europe where blunt, direct communications are preferred, where brevity is valued and where context is not necessary. How does that kind of communication affect cultures such as those in Southern Europe or Latin America where elaborate traditional communication are appreciated; where how something is said is more important than what is being said, and where non-verbal communication carries a significant part of the message?

This is a clear example where generational differences significantly impact traditional culture. Those who have been raised with Skype and electronic communications prefer the medium, regardless of their cultural background or country of origin. They’ve grown up expecting fast, brief tidbits of information flow, especially when its online.

However, don’t be fooled. This is one more example where the Iceberg Theory applies. The iceberg theory states that, just like an iceberg in the ocean, what you can see above-the-surface is only a small portion of the entity. In fact, the iceberg is twice as large below the surface of the water.

Likewise, when you think of cultural awareness, visible behaviors (such as clothing and entertainment) will often disguise the deeply held cultural beliefs that are different and are invisible. These differences, like the iceberg, are hidden from view.

How people communicate across cultures also plays an important role in the use of social networking technologies. For example, Western users of Facebook tend to view and use their profile on that site as an extension of their offline identities, connecting with people who they know in their offline life and uploading photos of themselves and their friends for everyone in their network to see.

In Japan and Korea, however, where social networks are even more actively used, participants prefer using anonymous avatars and connecting with people that they don’t necessarily know in their offline lives. People in these "face" cultures risk too much by exposing their offline identities and prefer the freedom that anonymous expression provides.

In addition, their cultural sense of group identity and the homogeneity of their cultures, encourage them to create alternative identities they might not express in their daily lives that allow them to venture out of their everyday experiences.

The exponential growth of people communicating around the globe electronically makes it all-the-more imperative that we learn effective cross-cultural communication.

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