Monday, October 19, 2009

Welcome to the New Frontier.

What is the New Frontier? "Intercultural Communication." Why? Think about it. Advances in technology, advances in telecommunication, migration of populations (diaspora), off-shore and on-shore work relationships, self-directed and culturally-mixed work teams, and flattened organizations have brought a new workplace...and a need to communicate better. That has created a New Frontier.

I don't know about you but over the last few week I tried to communicate with rooms full of Chinese, Koreans, Indians, Pakistanis, Malaysians, Taiwanese, a couple of Russians, a handful of Japanese and some Turks - with an American or two thrown into the mix. In the process I understood what Edward T. Hall said: "Culture hides more than it reveals, and strangely enough what it hides, it hides most effectively from its own participants."

In my classrooms all of us politely interacted on a surface level, human being to human being, while our thoughts, emotions, actions and feelings were being influenced by the cultures we had grown up in. And, those influences were mostly invisible.

How will we ever communicate if we don't know each other more deeply, more visibly? We won't. We first must understand as much about the "other" as we can. But, we Americans typically don't do this. We expect everyone from India to get excited about Christmas and Easter and Hanukkah, but we know little, if anything, about Diwali, unless we have befriended an Indian or have been fortunate enough to have traveled to the subcontinent (a wake-up call and wonderful experience, believe me).

The New Frontier will require that we learn many details about the "other." It will take effort and desire. For years we've been bumping up against the differences between "Individualistic" and "Collectivistic" cultures. Even if we're not thinking about it, many of us are daily confronting our American "Idiocentrism" and weighing it against the many people who live an "Allocentric" life. We will need to learn about "High Context" and "Low Context" cultures, examine our values and the values of others, paying particular attention to the ways we define our selves, the ways we value (or de-value) age, family, human nature, activity, and power.

As I said in the first paragraph, technology, telecommunication and diaspora, along with globalization, are dumping us in the same boat. If we are to row in one direction, we will need to communicate well. We won't do that unless we understand each other's cultures better. If you want to know how Muslims think, learn about Muhammad; read the Qur'an. If you want to know what motivates Afghans, study the history and culture of Afghanistan. Don't like the Taliban? What do you know about them? Does Pakistan frightened you? Intercultural communication - it's the New Frontier.


  1. Hey, Professor Barr,

    I feel so lucky to be enrolled in your writing class! All of my friends recommend it to me, however, the first class still exceeds my expectation!

    I do feel the trend that "The world is flat" ( book from Thomas L. Friedman). And it is interesting when I think about the relationship between "simplicity"--which is partly caused by "international standards" and "diversity".

    And do you think English is likely to be the Tower of Babel in the neat future?

    Looking forward to seeing you on Wednesday then!

    Ailun Qin

  2. By the way, Professor Barr, your website looks great!!

    I love the color and the layout! I wish I could give myself a birthday present like that!

  3. Thank you! I don't see English as a Tower of Babel but as a uniting force.