I very nearly didn't finish Susan Tardanico's recent article in Forbes Magazine when I saw her trot out the urban legend that 93% of communication is non-verbal. But I persevered because her topic is one that I've been discussing a lot lately - with friends - over e-mail!
Is social media sabotaging real communication? Yes, I say. Yes! Yes! Yes! As Tardanico so rightly points out, anyone can hide behind a text or an e-mail or a Facebook update or a tweet. In fact, just because my name is on the account, doesn't mean that they're my updates or my tweets or my blog posts. I could be anyone - I might be me... but then again, I might not be. And the face I present to the world, without those non-verbal giveaways, is one that is left unscrutinised. Am I really as happy as I make out to be? Is my life really going so well? Do I really think that Hungary is in danger of losing sight of democracy...or is that someone else talking?
Tardanico highlights what she calls 'a new set of communication barriers', among them the quantity vs quality and superficiality vs authenticity. She lauds social media as a surrogate for real communication and says: for it to be a truly effective communication vehicle, all parties bear a responsibility to be genuine, accurate, and not allow it to replace human contact altogether.'Sure, I can be genuine and accurate but how can I be sure that you are, too?
How many of us at work prefer to e-mail the person across the room rather than get up and go talk to them in person? How many will send an SMS rather than pick up the phone? How many figure that posting 'Happy Birthday' on a wall will subsitute for a phone call or a card? Yes, I can now contact anyone in the world quickly and easily, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I'm not denying that. But at what cost? It is getting harder and harder to maintain face-to-face contact - I've been playing phone/FB/SMS tag with a friend here in Budapest for three weeks and we have yet to talk in person. Perhaps before Christmas...
But a voice of reason: Andrew Spong, writing on this article in Scoop it, has this to say:
AS: I appreciate this piece has been written to provoke a response, but what constitutes 'real' communication is defined in restrictive terms here. If the call is to imbue our communications in social media with more honest emotion and human sentiment, then yes, let's. All technologies have the potential to alienate; however they also have the power to connect. It's up to us which we choose.
My question is how? How do we imbue our communication in social media with more honest emotion and human sentiment if we can never really be sure to whom we're connecting with?