“The most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st century will not occur because of technology but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.” ~ John Naisbitt
Another observation from my recent travels. Seated in the boarding area for a delayed flight in Chicago, I watched and counted a mass of waiting passengers within the immediate area. 126 people glued to some electronic device, making no eye contact with others, expressing no body language, or attempting to engage another in traditional pleasantries or dialogue. I also saw three couples having a verbal conversation. Another four were sleeping.
I’ll let that experience stand on its own.
It’s clear that we have never been more interconnected. And while convenient and expeditious, at what cost has interconnectivity come?
This is a topic many have studied and documented. The pros and cons associated with the effects of technology abound. Yet while we may feel we’re connecting effectively with others via social media and the internet, is too much of electronic-relating creating a sense of social isolation?
To a modest extent, I am guilty of creating internet “friendships.” Some have grown, others have fizzled. Few are deep. What’s clear, though, is that without hearing the tone of a person’s voice, without seeing body language, without simply being able to ask the other to clarify, misunderstandings can and do take place. I’ve even found some of my “real life” friends contacting me via email instead of the telephone. Feeling this to be a rather cold form of communication, I have started answering some emails with a phone call. Odd how it put an end to email and once again began verbal communication.
In a June, 2010 article in Psychology Today, Alex Lickerman wrote, “Our emotional invisibility in a digital world perhaps also explains so much of the vitriol we see on so many websites. People clearly have a penchant for saying things in the electronic world they would never say to people in person… It’s as if the part of our central nervous system that registers the feelings of others has been paralyzed or removed when we interact electronically, as if we’re drunk and don’t realize or don’t care that our words are hurting others.”
The internet and accompanying technology are great for transferring information efficiently. For transacting emotionally sensitive or satisfying connections, it’s not. And as many know, relationships are grounded in substantive connections. Not in tweets, texts, and cursory commentary.
In our world, one in which social media proliferates, there are still ways we can exercise good judgment. If we can’t initiate or encourage traditional human interaction, here are three ‘rules of engagement’ to consider:
Don’t delay your responses to messages you’d rather avoid. If someone has reached out to you, they care about your response.
- Relationships are affected by online communication. It’s much easier to injure friendships online than in person because of the ease of creating misunderstandings electronically. Non-verbal communication (purported by some to represent 40% of our in-person communication) is completely absent. Remember that every message you send becomes a permanent part of your personal or professional brand.
- Balance time online with time spent with family and friends. It may seem too obvious to mention, but it feels qualitatively different to go out to dinner with friends than to spend several days engaged in back-and-forth electronic exchanges. So much is lost in the latter. And our effect on one another is much more intense when we meet and communicate in person. There is no substitute.
I’ll close with the following coffee shop image, shared today by a friend, Valerie Brunnberg.