I believe that the web and social media will, and have, brought us closer together as a society by increasing our communication with each other and understanding of each other with respect to greater society and culture. However, I don’t believe that social is, or should be, a substitute for human contact and personal interactions; rather, it enhances such connections.
Social media, by its very nature, relies on the growing connections between its individual members. It has been a powerful tool in reconnecting old friends and classmates to reunite, but it goes well beyond just reconnecting. Social media breeds new connections between individuals that otherwise could never have interacted because of social, geographical, and other very real and practical barriers. These new connections breed social interactions between like minded individuals which often lead to very constructive collaborations.
In my own field (entrepreneurship), I see this very frequently. Many of the business partners with whom I work, I met through social media … many of them I have never actually met in person, yet trust them to be great friends and business partners. In some cases, I have seen people that met online build entire successful companies from the ideas that originated in Facebook groups and online chat. Social Spin and Buildingabrandonline are great examples. I know the co-founders personally (through social media, of course) and know that they all met each other through social media and are now building and running thriving companies together.
Beyond the power of networking, social media and the web (hi-tech) also makes human connection (hi-touch) more possible and more easily attainable, hence the concept that social media is “hi-tech hi-touch.” It does this by building a bridge between people that otherwise may not connect, even if they met directly in person and had no geographical boundaries. A great example of this is the phenomenon experienced by many rising college freshmen, who often find and connect with other students entering their freshman year at the same college over the summer via Facebook. During orientation and the first few weeks of classes, students recognize their peers from Facebook groups and interactions, and find it much easier to approach each other and engage in conversation; this is because despite their new environments and extremely varied backgrounds, they already have an acquaintance-like connection from Facebook. I have experienced this myself and know many others who have as well, and I can imagine that it has only increased since I was a first-year over 3 years ago. Bringing this same example back to the business world one blogger discusses the impact that social media has had on face-to-face networking and communication: http://www.lucorpmarketing.com/high-tech-requires-high-touch-article-about-victoria-trafton-and-referral-institute/
Yet another blogger and entrepreneur discusses the many tools within social media that are available to further stimulate and increase authentic communication between its members:
“On a the platform side the tool allows you to effectively build a profile (here’s mine), post articles, invite members to become a part of your network, join and create groups around community or themes, and create and promote local events. (More on this)
On the harder to quantify side, the quality of engagement in this network far outstrips anything I’ve seen and been a part of in other networks. This comes through loud and clear in things like article comments and messages to new members.” http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog/2009/11/02/biznik-blends-high-tech-with-high-touch/
The examples are endless from all corners of society, be it business, religion, music, sports, academics, whatever … the point is clear: social media is more than a technology, it is a cultural phenomenon that has allowed for greater connection (in quantity) and deeper communication (quality), not only within itself on the Internet, but also in the offline societal community.
Just to perform a social (media) experiment, I decided to ask this question on my Facebook status a few days ago, and got surprisingly similar responses to the thesis above… the two of theresponses are reproduced for you below:
David H Manning Social media gives us contact we would not normally have. However, taken to the extreme you have people in the same room tweeting and texting one another. Sending a hug online is no where near the real thing.
I’ve connected with many people across the country in my business. This week at a convention in Dallas I was a…ble to see them face to face, to shake their hands and to really hug them. Awesome. My philosophy: All things in moderation.
Donna Boccio Digilio I think it will do both depending upon what the person’s situation is.
I will use myself as an example. It brought together me with friends from high school that I had lost track off and we have gotten together many times and it is been gre…at socially for me. But, if you do not physically connect like I just described you are depriving yourself from physical contact and the real time of reading someone’s emotions on their face. Not actually seeing someone reading their body language, facial expressions etc. will retard if not dibilitate your social instincts and social ettiquette if you only do this by web and social media. If you have a social disability already it will only make matters worse. In order to feel confident socially and come together as people, it has to be face to face for me….
These responses indicate the power social media has to connect and reconnect people, but still emphasize the importance of those connections leading to human contact.