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Social media – a new set of communication barriers

Published on 08 May 2012
Updated on 05 April 2024

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?

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2 replies
  1. Steven Nelson
    Steven Nelson says:

    “Is social media sabotaging
    “Is social media sabotaging real communication?” Well, if we define communication as the transfer of information, then I say no! Social media can do that just as well as any other form of communication.

    But perhaps what you really mean by this post is, is social media not really genuine human contact? Well this may be true! That’s certainly something we all crave and which is missing in social media channels. But maybe we’ll just have to get used to that :0

  2. Andrew Spong
    Andrew Spong says:

    Hi Mary

    Hi Mary

    How kind of you to make reference to a passing observation I made at the bottom of the piece of content I curated that you cite above.

    I think the simple answer to your question (‘how?) is perhaps best answered by stating honestly that a single communication cannot be imbued with honest emotion and human sentiment. Anything crafted to do so in isolation looks like what it is: spin. An attempt to convince and convert.

    In other words: these aren’t traits that we purposefully set out to emanate.

    Rather, they are values that, hopefully, our readership will perceive in the act of interpreting what we say…

    …*every* time we say it. Every day we show up on line. Every time we contribute something of value to a community for purpose of making something better rather than selling something bigger.

    This line of reasoning inheres within a wider set of evolutionary social business principles (which I refer to as postmarketing for short) built around success through the manifestation of the sort of ideals we believe our activities should connote in order to succeed.

    Showing, not telling, in other words.

    Doing the sort of things that people want to talk about, rather than talking to people about ourselves.

    Caring. Being human. Being honest.

    Not saying how ‘passionate’ you are in your Twitter bio, but rather conveying your commitments through your actions.

    There’s no short cut to ‘how?’

    If you get it wrong, people will tell you.

    If you get it right, people will tell you that, too.


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