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Lonely planet

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The 7.5 billion humans on this Earth are more connected than ever before. Technology has collapsed the physical boundaries between people. We are now able to communicate using many digital connections. The communication tools at our disposal include the telephone, Skype, text, twitter, email, chat rooms and social media (e.g. Facebook).

We are conducting more and more of our relationships online. Technology is bringing us together but, paradoxically, it’s literally keeping us apart. As we become more connected, we become more disconnected. Meeting face-to-face is being replaced by communicating keyboard-to-keyboard. It’s quicker and less hassle to send a quick text message than to eyeball someone.

The line between real life and screen life has become blurred. An increasing number of people spend their days walking around with their noses buried in their iPhones. Others shut out the world with their headphones. We seldom speak with our next-door neighbours but “chat” incessantly with cyber-friends we rarely see.

Thanks to online shopping and online communications, we never have to leave our homes. But we do venture out because deep down we crave human touch and social interaction. That’s why coffee lovers who could make a cappuccino in their own kitchen, flock to cafés where they can sip their latte macchiato surrounded by others.

We humans are herd animals and a lack of attachment is not normal. Yet our contact with each other is becoming more and more superficial. We have broader but shallower friendships. Real flesh-and-bone friends who stick with you through thick and thin are hard to find while transient, online virtual friends seem to pop out of the cyber-world.

A real-life example will help here. In 2010, a 42-year-old woman in England posted a Christmas Day suicide note on her Facebook page. Sadly, the message to her 1,082 Facebook “friends” went largely ignored. I believe the anonymity and no-social-responsibility of Facebook contributed to this tragedy. For some, social networking is a narcissistic one-way street.

Digital interaction can have unpleasant consequences. People say things over the Internet that they would not dare utter to a person’s face. Electronic communication allows bullies to harass victims with little risk of face-to-face confrontation. Social media provides a mask and a physical remoteness that can bring out the worst in people.

What digital communicators fail to understand is that 93 per cent of human communication is non-verbal. Only 7 per cent is actual spoken words. The rest is made up of gestures, facial expressions, body language and eye contact. These elements, of course, cannot be transmitted through the Internet.

The absence of non-verbal cues is fraught with danger. Text messages can’t communicate voice tone and inflection, and this makes it difficult to decode the sender’s mood and attitudes. A funny, tongue-in-cheek remark made in person runs the risk of being misinterpreted as sarcasm when communicated in a plain text message.

Another danger with text and email messages is they can be fired off at great speed. This leaves little time for contemplation and can result in email tirades. I’ve seen this first-hand at Gateway where we genuinely receive very few written complaints. Interestingly, the tone of the complaints that we receive by snail mail is invariably politer than the feedback contained in rapid fire emails.

Those of you addicted to online communication might benefit from reading a sophisticated self-help book by MIT professor, Sherry Turkle. In Reclaiming Conversation: The Power Of Talk In A Digital Age, Professor Turkle laments the fact that we have sacrificed personal conversations for digital connections. She believes that we are being silenced by our technologies to the point where many of us feel more at home in the world of our screens.

Among family and friends, among colleagues and lovers, we turn to our phones instead of each other. We readily admit we would rather send an electronic message or mail than commit to a face-to-face meeting or a telephone call….(Yet) face-to-face conversation is the most human - and humanizing - thing we do. Fully present to one another, we learn to listen. It’s where we develop the capacity for empathy. It’s where we experience the joy of being heard, of being understood.

Professor Turkle acknowledges that these conversations require time and space and that we say we’re too busy. But we must break this vicious cycle otherwise what constitutes much of what it means to be human will be replaced with electronic communication.

The time for change is now. So, make a start today by turning off all devices over dinner tonight. You just might learn something meaningful about those around you. You may even discover that nothing beats spending real time with real people!

Regards,
Paul J. Thomas, CEO

Comments

avatar Phil p.timms@bigpond.net.au
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Thanks for this blog, Paul.
I wholeheartedly agree with your comments. One thing you didn't mention is the danger posed by people walking on crowded streets (and across roads) with noses buried in their devices. I have had to step aside for so many people walking straight towards me without being aware of their surroundings and also had to brake in the car to avoid someone jay-walking across a road looking at their device. Then of course there is the danger of drivers using their devices both stopped at lights (frustrating when the lights change and they don't notice) and whilst they are driving, causing accidents.
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avatar Des Tubridydes@gmail.com
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Captures the situation well Paul, forwarding this to some family and friends who attend social events only to stay preoccupied with their smart phones. At a recent wedding six of the ten people at the table were too busy to talk to anyone! Many thanks.
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CEO Paul Thomas