I sent an email to someone the other day that probably made them mad. I was busy, and frustrated with them, so I fired off a terse email and then went on with my day. I substituted a technological tool for human connection, and I passed up an opportunity to reach a true understanding with my friend.
Never before has it been so easy for people to connect. The Internet and mobile devices now make it possible to share any content, from an emoticon to sound and video, from any location. We tweet from sports events, text sarcastic comments during boring meetings, and share photos of our meals and workout statistics online. But with instant connectivity, are we losing the ability to communicate? Are we hiding behind our connectivity?
Studies show that over 90% of our communication is nonverbal. We evolved gestures and verbal expressions before we developed written language, and we have 43 facial muscles to convey every impression and emotion, and yet we increasingly rely on technology that only transmits text. And in too many cases, we hide behind the technology we use. I’ve seen it, (I’ve done it) and I’m sure you have too–the examples are everywhere.
- We don’t want to deal with an issue, or we’re not sure what to say, so we send a vague email, committing to nothing, and then congratulate ourselves for being productive. We’ve slapped the ball back in their court, and now we can say we’re waiting on them.
- We hit the “like” button when we have nothing to say, but want the poster to know they were heard. But have we really said anything, shared a real connection?
- We read tone and intent into an email, and take offense when none was intended. Or we send a online message, wait anxiously for a reply, and then assume rejection, when the recipient hasn’t even opened our message.
There’s no doubt that social media and communication tools can have profound positive impacts. We can now check in with loved ones without disrupting their meeting or ours. We can connect instantly with friends and colleagues around the world, and can establish connections with people that we never would have the chance to meet face to face. But when we spend more time participating in online “communication” that we do talking to the person next to us, when we’re looking at our screens more than we look at the beauty of the world and the people around us, we run the risk of losing the thing that makes us human.
Written communication has it’s place, but when emotion is involved, when the subject is important and true communication and understanding needs to take place, there’s no substitute for picking up the phone or walking down the hall and talking.