Global Positioning

By Andrews, Debby | Business Communication Quarterly, June 2004 | Go to article overview

Global Positioning


Andrews, Debby, Business Communication Quarterly


A SENSE OF WHERE YOU ARE is a prime attribute of athletes, especially team athletes, who need to read each other's presence on a field or a court instinctively, faultlessly, continuously. For many of us, however, establishing our position in relation to others is less a matter of instinct and more a matter of deliberate and sometimes difficult design.

Technology helps. At a simple level, overheard conversations suggest that cell phones often function as devices for such positioning. A New Yorker cartoon captures this function in three frames, each with a picture of a train and a man: cell phone to ear, the man says, "I am getting on the train." Then, next frame, "I'm on the train." Finally, "I'm getting off the train." Being on the phone, however, means that, in some real sense, you're not in that place but in a new, mediated space. As we copyedited this issue, I was struck again by the way technology can position us in a place (as in a global positioning system) and take us out of that place. Not a very original thought on my part, but one several authors wrestle with in this issue to good effect.

A group of graduate students in management communication at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, for example, write about their "odyssey" as they became a community of practice. It's interesting that they use the journey metaphor, a reference to real (if mythic) places, to frame the narrative of how they countered a sense of isolation as individual students to create a supportive community, both a face-to-face community and, increasingly, a virtual one. Another article focuses on how students in an online professional communication class normalized their discourse with each other, that is, built in correctives when conflicts arose in conversations about controversial topics. Without the nonverbal communication markers of the physical classroom, students had to use their words to balance their positions. The Focus on Teaching column, a second look at "Presentations and the PowerPoint Problem" (the first was in the March issue), examines a different kind of positioning, the relationship between global software and local presences. …

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