I used to spend much of my day with a phone glued to my ear. Now it is my laptop and Treo that keep my fingers and yes, rather than my mouth and ears, busy. In this, I am not alone. There are countless others out there just like me. We’re mostly white collar professionals of a certain age and in a select set of industries.
How does this dynamic change the interconnectedness among individuals? Does it build stronger or weaker relationships or is it largely irrelevant?
My sense is that these technological developments that I have adopted enable me to build a broader, but more shallow, network. I communicate on a daily basis with far more people than I used to, but rarely have the depth of conversation, engagement, or information exchange as I recall doing when it was a smaller circle.
I honestly don’t know whether that is good or bad. And perhaps that’s not the right metric anyway. Maybe it is just different. I do now have a wider range of viewpoints to consider and information to process, but there is less of the casual back-and-forth conversation that could occasionally lead to greater insight on important questions or ideas.
Electronic communications certainly have a different dynamic than voice calls. Though email is informal, and instant messaging even more so, one still has the time to more carefully parse language if one chooses. Spoken conversations tend to be much more fluid and unpredictable, with a clear ability to convey through tone greater meaning. In many respects, it is this latter characteristic that can often make electronic communications tricky. What a writer intends to be humorous may instead be perceived as sarcastic; what is said tongue-in-cheek could be taken seriously.
Much as I argued in my “Inside the Bubble Thinking” post last summer, technology can be a great enabler, but we must not permit it to overcome our better judgment. We must seek to go beyond our own comfort zone to find information and opinions that challenge our world views, whether those be in business, politics, or life. In this, electronic communications can help expose us to that sort of thinking. It doesn’t mean we have to change our views, just be open to listening.
Ultimately, the broader interconnectedness permitted by electronic communication certainly benefits us, but we must be cognizant of what it takes away. We should strive to strike a balance between electronic and voice interaction, rather than eschewing the latter entirely.