Chester Irving Barnard, a telecommunications executive and author of Functions of the Executive, argued that one of three functions of an executive was to establish and maintain a system of communication. At the time of his writing, the modes of communications were limited for Chester: he had postal mail, television and phone. Today’s executive faces nearly double the modes; they have gained email, web pages and social networking.
Over the past decade, the use of electronic or IT communications have increased and stand to become the dominant form of communication for most of the population. Yet as a recent Pew Research report tells a divide between the technological haves and the technological have not’s remains. The report tells us that 1 in 5 American adults do not use the internet particularly those who are senior citizens, those who prefer Spanish to English, those who have less than a high school diploma, and those living in households that make less than $30,000. So what does this mean for organizational communications? At first glance it would imply that 20% of the population is not being touched by the digital revolution but a closer look and bit of future thinking leads one to the conclusion that this number could potentially grow as we have an aging population (whose fixed income may not allow for the cost of broadband internet or internet enabled phones), a growing Latino population, and an economic recession which has dropped incomes in the present and in the future.
The number one reason that the 1 out of 5 did not use the internet is they felt it was not relevant to them and most have never used the internet or have an intention to do so. Therefore there is a significant amount of the population can only be contacted by the same ways the Charles Barnard had and they are not willing to change. As leaders, how do we deal with this reality? The fact is that organizations are on the steady path towards moving away from postal mail for email, phone for social networking and web pages for ads. This problem is perhaps most clear for those in the nonprofit sector and the government sector in which there are many audiences who span across demographics. As leaders do we accept the fact that there just some people we need to exclude from our marketing and communications efforts? Conversely, do stay in the world of old mass communication at the cost of falling further and further behind technology? How does your organization or you yourself walk this line of the digital divide?