Digital Communication: With ‘Friends’
30 million copies worldwide, and ranked #19 on Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential books — Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (‘Friends’) is clearly a well read and respected book. The book was published to large fanfare in 1936. Although, today some critics questions the relevance of the piece. Fault can be found in whether a piece written around 80 years ago is still applicable in today’s digital world. Throughout this piece I will explore the history of the text, what critics are saying, and then give my input on how the piece and critics can be corrected.
But first, to understand the text you must understand the author. Dale Carnegie was born in 1888 to a farmer’s family. In his early years he found success in sales. Selling bacon, soap, and lard for Armour and Company, using his home grown sales techniques he pushed his territory to the national leader within the firm. After successfully earning enough money, he used these funds to help pay for his education. Attending the American Academy of Arts within New York City, he excelled in writing and lecturing. After college he created and started touring the Dale Carnegie Course, which has the purpose of trying to make individuals unafraid to address a public audience. Using this speaking course he wrote ‘Friends’ in 1936 — developing a new genre of book for the period, Self-help. People at the time were looking for something to help improve their lives, and this book was the perfect fit. Just like people flocked to his Dale Carnegie speaking course, his book became an overnight best seller. This overnight success transformed Carnegie from a small town farmer’s boy, to a revered household name.
Understanding the authors past, what is the book — ‘Friends’ — really all about? ‘Friends’ tries to be an instruction manual for relationship and business success. Carefully constructed sections and points give fundamental techniques for handling people and situations. There are 4 major parts within the book; Fundamental techniques in handling people, Six ways to make people like you, Twelve ways to win people to your way of thinking, and Be a leader: How to change people without giving offense or arousing resentment. Each of these respective sections try to accomplish the goal that their title sets forth by a number of points. The points are given through the use of a story that then develops into the significance and use of the point. In totality, this book has the aim of trying to help the reader in a number of different situations.
‘Friends’ was first published in 1936, around 80 years ago. Dale Carnegie died in 1955, almost 61 years ago. There have been a number of different editions, but the copy that this essay will focus on is the 1981 revised edition. While ‘revised’, little has changed since the original copy. Does this edition remain relevant? Over the past 80 years the world has changed dramatically, from life expectancy, to marriage, education, employment, wages, entertainment, sport and most importantly technologically. We are living in a world where technology plays a central role in our lives. Dale Carnegie could never imagine the complexities and differences between the societies he lived in and now. This brings the question up a second time; does the book remain relevant today?
Critics of ‘Friends’ like to focus their attentions upon why the book cannot be the same comprehensive guide that it was in the past. Society has changed, and more importantly these rules do not always completely apply. While their sentiment remains intact, their impact through the rule has become underdeveloped. Backing this up, writers such as Jeremy Quittner often critic the books relevance in today’s technological society. It is common to look at the rules and wonder how you can apply them. How can you “smile” or “be a good listener” through an email or text message? While it may seem impossible, myself and other believe that the underlying goal of this point remains. Summed up nicely in Quittners article, Influencing People in the Digital Age,
“Although the technology around us has changed… Carnegie’s most basic principles can still be summed up this way: Smile, think in terms of other people’s interests, and engage in a friendly way. That’s advice that never goes out of style” (Quittner, 2012).
With this in mind, while there may be criticism, there is a sustained belief in the merit of the text. While the rules might not necessarily apply in the current form, with some minor tweaking it can be possible to update. Quittner believes that while the text is outdated, it still has relevance. I agree with Quittner, and believe that I could manipulate the text to fit today’s world.
One of the biggest points from the book is to smile. Simple. Useful. But not easy to do over a text message or email. Now you can still use this point in many situations — person to person contact — but what happens in today’s electronic world? While many critics might site this as a fault in the text, I believe that it is just too specific. Smiling will always be a useful tool to win over others in direct contact, but what is the smile actually trying to convey. Breaking it down, a smile is really just a way to show the other person that you are friendly and inviting. You are attempting to show the other person that there is an open path of communication between both parties. Now how do you translate this to the digital world?
Without receiving the same facial expressions and body language, interaction will never be the same within a digital society. Although if you correctly use this new form of communication, it can be just as effective. Following will be a set of personal ideas about the best way to ‘smile’ through your digital communication. The first and most important aspect to consider is what type of digital communication is most appropriate. Text is a great resource to use for quick answers or casual conversation. Email elevates your conversations to a more formal atmosphere, and usually has a more elaborative response. Through these two common forms of digital text you can ‘smile’ by first recognizing which is most appropriate for your purpose. Then once you realize this purpose you adapt to that form of communications unspoken syntax. Formal for email, less for texts.
Keeping these ideas in mind, there are more strategies that can help you to become a more successful communicator. The act of smiling doesn’t just show the other person that you are an open communicator. Happiness can be derived from your inward attitudes, and by smiling you are telling yourself that you are happy. When approaching digital communication, you should keep this idea in mind. Negativity conveyed through text is the same as sulking. Whether you’re posting on social media, sending a text, or sending an email, it is important to always remember to stay positive. By posting negative text not only are you conveying a closed off image to the public, you are perpetuating your inner unhappiness. Personally, when I scroll through my Twitter feed I can see people violating this rule all the time. To name a few, Tweets about ‘lack of sleep’, ‘terrible day’, or ‘general unhappiness’ ravage Twitter feeds. These tweets express negativity, and usually are one of the least to be ‘liked’ and ‘favorited’. Clearly, by expressing this digital unhappiness you are not only staying negative personally, but spreading a negative vibe to others. ‘Smiling’ whether it be in person or online is a key life strategy. All things considered, while the original text had the right idea, critics did call out the current day deficiencies in the original point but with the additional comments the rule can now sustain itself.
Based off a quick Twitter search of “ :( “ you can clearly see live examples of negativity displayed digitally. This type of negativity is not somthing that you would present in the work place, not a charcterisitc you would have on a first date, and not something that will improve your current mindset. So why do you want to share this to the entire world?
Furthermore, ‘smiling’ within text communication can be taken further, but only by understanding it deeper. Detecting emotion over text can be extremely difficult. Many times there is a disconnect between the sender and receiver. The sender may try to send a message with sarcasm, but have it fall flat due to the receiver not understanding. Or a short response to a long email might make the original sender believe that they said something wrong. The confusion that arises from this can cause a tense and unnecessary reaction. Potential for misunderstanding grows every day, but remembering to ‘smile’ over text can limit or eliminate many of these confusions.
Communication works both ways, and sometimes there are hiccups in the process. Remembering a personal example of my own between myself and a professor, can illustrate this perfectly. I was going to have to miss a class due to a family emergency. I typed a lengthy email explaining the situation. I knew the policy that the professor had laid out clearly in the syllabus and the first day for missing class periods. After sending the email, I received a reply with a singular word, “Noted”. This reply left me with unease — as it would to many. Had I done something wrong? Within my head, such a short reply to a long email must mean that I had miss-stepped somewhere. This “Noted” could mean that either he understood the situation and was in agreement or that he know was aware that I was missing but would still dock points. It was too vague. It took an office visit to clear up the confusion that I had in fact done nothing wrong. But there was confusion. Why?
The example of a response not equaling the sent message is a perfectly illustration of someone forgetting to ‘smile’ within their message. As a respondent to a message it is important to acknowledge and answer in an equally proportional manner to the original text. Simply put, when you receive a message, you should acknowledge and respond beyond one word. Instead, provide ample evidence that you care about what they are saying, and respond in a similar fashion. Failing to do so can create ambiguity between the sender and the receiver. ‘Smiling’ through the text is showing that you care enough about what the other person is saying and to warrant them a worthy response.
While there have already been a number of ideas encompassing what it is to ‘smile’, to complete the transformation of this rule requires one more idea. Once again using a personal example, when talking to my friends I have found that I have to limit my use of sarcasm over text. People directly interacting have the ability to pick up on subtle vocal and facial cues and suggestions of facetiousness. Over text many friends and family were not able to pick up on sarcasm, which has led to a number of awkward situations. With this in mind, it has become a general rule of mine to abstain from sarcasm outside of direct vocal communication. This rule adapts ‘smiling’ because it helps ensure that the other party is successfully decoding your message.
Reading facial expression can be a sure-fire way of understanding how they are feeling. Looking at the image above you can clearly disgunish ‘joy’ from ‘fear’. But is it that simple over text? No. Reading the emotion of the writter can be near impossible. That is why when people attempt to display emotion over text can be near impossible. Following Carnegie adapted ‘smile’ technique over text can eliminate the confusion and not leave the reader guessing at what the writters facial expression looks like.
Dale Carnegie has a number of valuable teaching lessons within his book ‘Friends’. Critics tend not to argue the legitimacy of his work within direct interpersonal communication. They instead will call fault with the notion that today — a digital world — more communication is done through digital (textual) conversations, and these principals do not have the same universal usability they once had. While we indeed have moved to a digital world, I believe that Carnegies work is just as relevant as ever. Being less focused on the points of the text explicitly, and viewing it through an abstract lens, you will begin to realize the overarching legitimacy of the work. ‘Smiling’ can be used not only within the landscape of when ‘Friends’ was originally writer, but also in today’s digital society.
Quittner, J. (2012, October 24). Influencing People in the Digital Age. Retrieved from Inc.: http://www.inc.com/jeremy-quittner/dale-carnegie-centennial.html
My essay, through the writing process, developed very organically. I started with researching the critics and arguments of others on my critical text. Amassing a number of different critics on the piece, I tried to determine what the best critical argument would focus around. I decided that the relevance of the piece today was the most significance, with the most interesting commentary I could provide. I then developed my piece by first adding my critical argument to the piece based upon the commentary on the primary article. Then, I added examples to help ‘sell’ and strengthen my own personal argument. Through my refinement process I added a number of different arguments and examples that I believe helped strengthen the arguments, and explain my points.
I would like to thank my peer editors — Sarah and Sofia. Also, acknowledging Jacklyn for helping refine my final draft — finding many of the tacky typos. My peer editors helped with an earlier version of my draft, giving more guidance on the direction that I should take my final piece. They both — along with Professor Harris — suggested that I add more examples to more clearly represent my argument. Without the valuable advice my piece would be completely different. Also, I need to thank Dale Carnegie, J. Quittner, and the Dysfunctional Literacy article for giving me my primary text and critics that I used to write my piece. I could not have written this piece without all the invaluable guidance and assistance.