In a society where social media is growing daily and becoming our main source of communication, we often find ourselves thinking about what social media is actually doing for us. Is it helping us create something new and amazing (like talking to multiple people from all around the world simultaneously on the internet) that we get to be part of, or is it hindering our communication skills and putting a crutch on our lives? The real question is; is social media sabotaging real communication?
A recent study done on Statistic Brain showed that 98% of young adults ages 18-24 use social media, with Facebook taking the lead with 1.4 billion users worldwide. We live in a world where our human interaction has become something irregular, even “odd” to technical interaction. We lose that sense of intimacy, connection with one and other. If 93% of communication is nonverbal body language, how are you supposed to truly get to know someone or understand what they are trying to say if only 7% of communication is only based on written or verbal word? You can potentially be whoever you want to be on the internet and no one would know. You control how people see you, how they perceive you. A Forbes article by Susan Tardanico that I read shared a story about a mother and daughter that texted everyday seeing as the daughter was away at college.
On this specific day they were talking, and her daughter seemed to be fine answering her mother’s questions with enthusiasm followed by emoticons smiles and hearts. Showing that she was good, she was happy. Later that night, her daughter attempted suicide. In the days following her attempted suicide, it came to light that she’d locked herself up in her room crying, showing signs of depression. A completely different reality from the one she projected in texts, Facebook and Twitter posts. When you’re not speaking to someone face to face it is very easy to misinterpret what they are actually feeling, it is easy for someone to manipulate how you think when reading what they are saying. When you’re not able to hear someone’s tone of voice or look them in the eyes to see when phrases like “Everything is good” doesn’t actually mean everything is good.
Social technology and social media have broken down this barrier of time and space, and has made it possible for us to interact with each other 24/7. Although studies show that social media is stripping away our real communication skills, filling them with abbreviations, snippets, and emoticons, social media can be a tool to improve our communication and writing skills. It gives us the confidence to talk to people we normally wouldn’t talk to. If you are a shy, uncommunicative person it gives you to opportunity to speak freely. A teacher in Austin, Texas encourages her students to post their assignments and essays on social media, allowing students to take ownership of their work, because they know it will be seen by more people other than just the teacher.
Resulting in better writing, and encourages creativity and collaboration. Social media is increasingly being used as a tool to track developing news stories and large events. From following the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti or this year’s missing flight 370, to the End It Movement. Social media is providing a unique communication opportunity to people all around the world and people in different subcultures that you normally wouldn’t talk to, but you are brought together by a cause that matters to you. In the workplace electronic communication has taken place to face-to-face and voice-to-voice communication. This has been driven by two major facts: the speed/geographic dispersion of business, and the lack of comfort with traditional interpersonal communication among a growing segment of our employee population: Gen Y and Millennials.
Studies show that these generations which will be made up of more than 50% of the workforce by 2020, prefer to us instant messaging or other social media rather than stopping by an office to talk to someone. This is one of the “generational gaps” plaguing organizations as Boomers try managing to a new set of norms and expectations in their younger employees, and vice versa. Susan Tardanico gives the idea we need a new golf course. Doing business on the golf course seems paradoxical these days, but the reason why this concept became so iconic was because it proved that when colleagues spend personal time together, more progress can be made. Relationships deepen; deals can be made, allowing colleagues to function more effectively off the course. This concept has been proven time and time again with correlations between face-to-face relationship building and employee engagement and loyalty.
Social media is changing the way we communicate, learn, and do business. It is giving us opportunities we never had before, meeting and talking to people from across the world possible. I think the question of whether or not social media is sabotaging real communication is up to you. Communicate to the best of your ability. Address your issues; if you are in a bad mood or are experiencing a conflict based on an electronic exchange, have a face-to-face conversation or pick up the phone to clear things up. Take some extra time before sending a message to check your own communication to ensure you aren’t unwittingly sending an inaccurate message. Don’t cop out; it is very easy to hide behind a closed door and do all your work from a computer or hand-held device, it actually takes the pressure off. Keep the communication two-way.
Just because you’ve sent out an email or text, it doesn’t mean communication has taken place. To be communicating with someone the other person has to respond. It is a two-way dynamic. Social media can be this beautiful thing that is giving us the opportunity to connect with virtually almost anyone, and is helping us come together for a common interest or a cause you’re passionate about. What are you doing to keep your communication effective, building a deeper more authentic relationship when we have only words, and can’t rely on voice, face, and body expression to get all the nuances that often belie the words?