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Is Digital Communication Enough?

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I recently read an interesting blog by MaggieCakes.  Social Media and The Art of Storytelling discusses whether storytelling as an art form is being jeopardized by the ever-increasing popularity of social media sites.

A couple of items I plucked out of her blog:

  • “Professional storyteller Anne Rutherford…believes the communications over digital technology, particularly via social media, are causing us to cut back on our in-person interactions, and thus on our chances to tell and listen to stories.”
  • MaggieCakes: “We use social media to connect and to share about our lives.  Really, our posts, tweets, and status updates come together to tell our stories…we’re all writing our autobiographies, whether we know it or not.”

I so agree with Maggie.  Our use of Social Media sites, including photo and video sharing, truly perpetuates storytelling in the most basic of forms – autobiography.  No imagination required.

Maggie’s blog and the resultant comments really got me thinking about a few things, particularly regarding social interactions.  Her discussion revolved around storytelling, but I kept thinking about my own personal relationships.  And I couldn’t stop myself from wondering, “Is in-person necessary, or is digital communication enough?”

Is in-person necessary?

I guess it depends on who you are and what level of interaction it takes to fulfill your own personal needs.

As for myself, I feel three ways about it:

  • It’s kind of a shame that I don’t personally keep in touch with people (I’m a bad, bad person)
  • I don’t actually feel a pressing need to keep in touch personally (I am who I am and I am…kind of a hermit)
  • I love that I can keep track of people, what they’re doing and what they’re thinking through Facebook, etc. (I may not call you, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about you)

That’s me in a nutshell: the idea of increasing my personal interactions – socializing with more people, more often – always sounds good to me, but the reality of it is more than I usually want to deal with.  In other words: when it comes down to it, I would rather be at home with my dog.  It really takes an effort for me to get out there and mingle.

Some of this is personality-based (blame my Dad’s genes – we’re just homebodies), and some is situational.  I live 30 minutes from anywhere, including anybody who I’d want to hang out with.  Also, I work in retail, and the multiple personal interactions that environment provides (all day long) is enough to satisfy most needs that I might have for human contact.  That’s not necessarily a negative statement.  The fact is that I talk about a wide variety of topics with a wide variety of people, almost every day.  This works for me, and it helps satisfy my curiosity about people, what their lives are like and how they view the world.  That’s enough for me in terms of verbal communication and face-to-face contact.

The tricky part is that I am not alone in my little corner of the world.  I thank God for that, but it does throw a monkey wrench into my gears sometimes.  The problem is that the level of interaction that is comfortable for me (not much), may be interpreted as rejection, anger, or just lack of caring by someone about whom I do care a great deal.

Is digital communication enough?Facebook Login

For me, it usually is.  Communication via social media has not cut down on my in-person interactions.  Rather, there are people in my extended circle that I wouldn’t be able to interact with much at all, if it weren’t for the internet and my android phone.  Furthermore, Facebook, texts, and twitter are quick update methods, and they’re easy to access – it’s something I can do on my phone a couple of times a day (even at work – bad girl).

My face-to-face conversations obviously take on a broader scope than the delectable little tid-bits that I read on the internet.  And those types of communications are important.  But status updates don’t just keep me connected; they also form a kind of canvas out of life’s little moments, random thoughts, observations and concerns.  It’s like those pictures made up of hundreds of other tiny little pictures.  Those tid-bits, that canvas is the background against which I view my friend, and it gives me a better understanding of the person as a whole.

Also, I just love that I can share in those little sparks of life, the moments that are here and then gone.  Without Facebook, I likely wouldn’t know what Duncan said this morning.  Do I need to know?  Not really.  Do I like knowing?  Of course I do – I eat it up.  Through our internet life, we are able to immortalize the little adventures that transpire throughout our day, that pass too quickly and are too easily forgotten.  We are able to capture a snapshot of our existence and share it with others.

I like keeping up with people who I don’t see in real life anymore.  Through digital social networking, I can stay connected with old classmates, people who have moved out-of-state, or who don’t work with me anymore.  I like knowing what they’re up to, what they’re lives are like now.  I’m getting the storyline fed to me bit by bit, as the autobiography is being written.  It’s sometimes funny, sometimes dramatic; it can be heartbreaking or completely inspirational.  But it’s always interesting, and I get to know about it.  These people are not lost to me.

And it’s great not to feel alone.  I may like to be by myself, but I don’t want to be alone.  And I like to share, too.  Sure, you’re throwing it out there into cyberspace, but whatever you have to say is eventually reaching a friend.  I’ve never felt like I was talking to a computer or to myself, even with random posts and updates.  I always feel like I’m “talking” to my friends – and those friends do respond.  They validate your great moments, and they lift you up and encourage you through those moments when you need them the most.  Even when you’re alone, you’re not alone.

But what are we trading for the digital connection?

I think the bigger question, one that underlies all the rest, is what is being lost?  It’s a question you hear repeatedly, particularly in regards to young people.  And I get it.  I’ve literally seen two kids sitting on the same couch together, with both of their laptops open, talking with each other on-line.  They were occasionally laughing and sharing a comment with each other, but it was pretty quiet over there.  Not what I’m used to.  It was comical and a little baffling at the time.  But was it a bad thing?  I don’t necessarily think so.  There was definitely a social interaction going on, and they were communicating with a group of friends, as well as each other.  Can you make the argument that they were losing out on something because they were typing and not speaking?  Many do make that argument; they feel that what is being lost is an ability to interact in a personal, face-to-face manner.  And it’s a valid argument.  Social interactions are vital to the development of our interpersonal skills, and our interpersonal skills (or lack thereof) can have a big influence on our success in life.  Like most other aspects of life, achieving a balance is key.  I’ve seen these same two kids running around like maniacs, interacting (loudly…so, so loudly) and being physical.  So, I’m not worried.

On a personal level, I can agree that the use of Social Media sites enables me to accommodate the hermit within.  Because I feel (digitally) connected, I don’t have to force myself to connect personally.  But honestly,  I never pushed myself to do that before, either.

Defining Personal

Following up on that thought…

There’s so much commentary (ironically published on the web) focused on the loss of “personal interaction” due to the extreme popularity of Social Networking sites, texting and the various forms of digital media.  I make the argument that these outlets can actually draw much more out of some of us than what we are willing to let go of in person.

There’s something to be said about the perceived anonymity of the digital social media that we use.  Even though you know (some of us do actually “know” our Facebook friends) the people you’re opening up to, some of them closely, it still feels a little easier to say things you maybe wouldn’t normally share.  For one thing, you’re not addressing a specific person.  You’re not saying, “Hey Susan, I feel really vulnerable today.”  And not being face to face means you don’t have to look the person in the eye, you don’t have to personally face the possibility of immediate rejection, derision or judgment.  At the very least, before they see you again, the other person will have had time to get used to the idea of what you put out there, your thought or opinion that might not jibe with their normal idea of who you are.

I certainly see many posts that are very personal, such as strong religious convictions, deeply personal feelings and thoughts.  Additionally, the relative brevity of status updates provides a rich growth medium for subjects that don’t naturally come up in a “normal” conversation.  Sometimes we don’t feel comfortable starting those deeper conversations about religion or how you’re really struggling right now.  And sometimes we are just not capable of verbalizing what we are going through or what we are feeling.  It’s much easier to make a brief statement on Facebook or Twitter – throwing it out into the world, but knowing that a friend out there will pick it up.  And there will be a conversation; it’s just carried out in comments and posts.

I don’t think that makes it less personal.

What is Being Lost? – Revisited

As I’ve let this marinate for a day, I’m asking myself other questions.  I do feel more connected now than I did before; but am I connected, or am I simply more informed?  What am I missing out on?

Reading about moments and experiencing moments are two different things.  What I’m missing out on is the experience, those sparks of life I was talking about.  Interacting personally with people – you don’t do that for the information that is communicated between you.  You can get that on the phone or in a text or in a status update.  The payoff for personal interactions is the shared experience.  Clearly, skydiving with your friend builds a deeper bond between you than just being told your friend went skydiving.  There’s being told, “It was a wild ride.”  And then there’s hitting the ground, looking over at your friend, and saying, “Man, what a ride!”

Having said all that, it’s not likely that I will change.  I like to be around people in general, but the bottom line is that I’m just a homebody.  I think about people all the time, I just don’t call them.  Does that make me a bad friend?  I don’t know.  But I think it goes back to what I said originally – it just depends on your point of view.  You can not call me as much as you want, that’s absolutely fine with me.  My mom talks to my sister several times a day, but she might only hear from me once a week.  Does that make me a bad daughter?  It certainly doesn’t mean I love her less than my sister loves her.  Mostly I think it just means my sister and I are two different people.

There’s one last thing going through my mind, and it’s harder to admit.  The truth is that I sometimes just don’t want to get involved.  It’s wonderful and it’s a blessing to have true friends and to have a supportive, loving family (and extended family).  But love is its own burden.  To love someone is to give a piece of your heart to them – they take it with them.  And that part of your heart that belongs to them, it feels their troubles and their heartaches as well as their joys and triumphs.  Loving someone means feeling worried for them.  Caring about what happens to other people can be painful and stressful and it causes anxiety in a very real way.  It’s part of why I don’t get involved as much, and it’s certainly a factor in why I am cautious about developing new friendships.  What does that say about me?  Does it say that I’m selfish or self-preserving?  Maybe it’s both.

The bottom line is that communicating through digital means does provide a level of detachment that is hard or impossible to achieve when you are talking face to face.  I said that I love knowing the story, and I do.  But I can’t deny that there is less of an emotional attachment, and I think I like it that way.  I guess that my smallish inner circle is as big as I want it to be.  And my outer circle is as large  – and as remote – as I need it to be, thanks to digital social media.  (Guess what?  That outer circle now includes you, blog reader!)

So…I still feel (for now) that digital communication is enough for me.  But this is a big subject, with avenues we haven’t even begun to explore here.

Feel free to talk amongst yourselves…

Skip on over:

Click here see what kind of interactions I have at work.

A few items of interest:

The importance of social interaction to human health

Interpersonal Skills Assessment

Interpersonal Skills

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Interesting post! As a teacher, I ponder these issues pretty often. Social media and effortless access to people and information are part of the fabric of my students’ world. I can’t say that the changes that new technologies are effecting are good or bad, but I do worry that we *may* be losing the sort of quality person-to-person interaction that has been the fundament of societies since societies have existed. I’m sure we’ll be fine, but I also think it’s good to reflect on how our society is changing, for better, worse or neither. I wonder sometimes whether people in their late twenties (like me) have always felt so old 🙂

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

    Nick

    April 30, 2011
    • skippingstones #

      Thanks! I actually didn’t expect it to get read. I was thinking about it more today and I’ve got an addition to make as a result. I am well past my twenties, and I can assure you I have felt that way over and over and over again. I remember when I was in college, in my first semester of college (so old, right?), I witnessed some girls in a convenience store just acting silly and whatnot. I remember so clearly thinking, “High school girls! So immature!” And then I thought, “Wow, when did I turn into that person? I’m maybe a year older than they are.”

      We are changing every day, maturing and sometimes immaturing (which can be necessary too). But you already know that – you’re a teacher.

      May 1, 2011
  2. Bad Bad Hermit Boots,
    I wish you were a regular at my philosophy group 🙂
    RR

    January 30, 2014
    • Yeah, I almost linked this post to the cyber friendship one, because I’ve swayed off this opinion a bit. Being in fairly regular contact with humans on the internet has made me crave personal contact much more. Not enough to come out the house, mind you. 🙂 But I’m not as ok being alone all the time as I was before I started blogging.

      January 30, 2014
      • That’s good to hear. It took me most of last year to flex my social / friendship muscles (flabby after marriage to a hermit). It’s important to maintain connections outside your regular work/family circle, even just one or two.

        January 30, 2014
    • Also, I doubt if I could keep up with you guys! I think a lot, but not quickly.

      January 30, 2014

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