As a writer, I often find it easier to communicate via the written word than orally, so I tend to write long. I want to be sure my meaning comes through as I plan it. That works sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t. But when I give thought to an e-mail and produce one that runs a few paragraphs, then get back a quick one-liner in response, I wonder, What’s up with that? Isn’t this guy treating my thoughts seriously? Is he angry with me for some reason? Or am I just being paranoid?
Apparently others are in the same boat, too. A few months ago I posted an entry that drew some discussion about the shortcomings of e-mails, text messages, and Facebook messages in conveying true meanings of the senders. I cautioned against trying to resolve disputes via e-mails, for example, because of this very problem.
So I wasn’t too surprised this week when I picked up a copy of the Ball State Daily News and found an interesting, albeit disturbing article from Kelly Dickey, about how serious electronic messaging can be.
Lost in translation
Entitled, “Conversations being lost in translation,” the article quoted students and counselors about the damaging effect these kinds of messages can have on individuals.
For example, one victims advocate noted: “From what I’ve seen and experienced, technology can be a wonderful resource to connect but, on the flip side, it can be a communication gap. If you’re texting back and forth via e-mail and Facebook, (the other person) may not know how to take what you’re saying.”
A loss of humanity
Therein lies the rub. The victims advocate, Michele Cole, said a decrease in human connection takes place when two people communicate through technology, and it can definitely have negative effects on relationships. One reason is the oft-stated fact that most electronic communication is devoid of that all-important nonverbal communication.
Cole continued that, in the Ball State University Counseling Center, “We strive for better communication with partners and conduct programming on healthy relationships. We focus on interaction. The nonverbals are such a large component of our everyday communication that, if you’re trying to just text back, and forth there’s that communication gap.
You don’t have to have counseling credentials to recognize the problem. Sophomore speech pathology major Laura Albers sees it, too.
“There’s a disconnect, and it’s just going to get worse,” Albers said. “You can be in a room with your friends, and there’s no point being there because they just text other people.”
Another student, Freshman Jordan Oppelt said she’s bothered by this, too.
“When that happens I just think, ‘What? You don’t want to hang out with me? I’m not good enough?” she said.
Another vexing issue concerning the flood of Facebook and Twitter communications is the public exposure or private matters involving the sender or other individuals. This comes under the heading of, “When does interpersonal communication become mass communication? When it goes on Facebook or Twitter.”
The domino effect of Facebook message distribution thrusts a knife into the heart of one-on-one messaging. There is an illusion that you are only communicating to a few close friends about yourself or someone else, but the audience is often much larger than you anticipate.
Even a simple act by one person of expressing her love for a guy she’s dating, can be very embarrassing for the guy if she hasn’t asked him first if it’s okay that she posts that message on Facebook. Suppose he doesn’t feel the same way but just hasn’t told her yet? Or suppose she hasn’t even told him yet, but thought it would be less stressful on her to pop it onto his Facebook page rather than telling him face to face?
Before Facebook, this act would be like hiring a pilot and his plane to trail a huge banner across the sky over the neighborhood where the guy lives.
Michele Cole of Ball State notes a lot of people assume a false sense of security when they send messages via text on or on Facebook.
“It goes back to, ‘I would text it but wouldn’t say it to your face.’ You get that false sense of courage.”
I’ve been teaching at the university level for many years, and it has been interesting to watch the evolution of students’ feelings regarding their privacy. As late as a year or two ago, many of my students didn’t seem to care if they were abandoning their privacy by posting private facts about themselves or others on the social media.
But lately I’ve been seeing the opposite: more and more students are thinking less and less about rushing onto Facebook with a revealing personal message unless they convince themselves they know who is receiving that message.
And that, by the way, is harder and harder for any of us to control in this age of the virtual unknown.
A university colleague once suggested that my wife Anne and I might find therapeutic help by starting a 12-step recovery group called Pets Anonymous. That was the time when we had just added a fourth foster dog to our breed brood, along with a cat and another stray dog who took to camping out in our garage. Ray thought maybe we were falling into a pet addiction profile?
Over the past 10 years, we have been a way station for Golden Retrievers, Labs, Goldendoodles, Labradoodles, a Chow, several Greyhounds (very underrated by many as pets), and one strange low-body beagle mongrel we called “Mr. Stubblefield” who loved me, hated everyone else, and often got inexplicably mad at his right rear foot. He was the garage dog who couldn’t decide whether to stay or go.
The Web Connection
The connection between all these animals and the Web 2.0 media is that most of them came our way through online portals. Just about every animal rescue group has taken to the Web to find permanent or foster homes for the available animals. A very brief, partial listing of these sites includes:
There is even a site for those wanting to rescue older dogs (www.srdogs.com) and several for those wanting to rescue horses like www.indianahorserescue.com. Then of course there are the many breed-specific sites like the Greyhound site of www.fastfriends.org.
A rescue database
To show you how these rescue sites work, let’s take a look at one of the largest and most well-known: Petfinder.com, or the last one on the above bulleted list. This outfit, which is really a kind of Grand Central Station for individual adoption agencies, is the virtual home of some 350,000 dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, reptiles, pigs, and other barnyard animals.
Petfinder is a Discovery Communications company, the same outfit that brings us the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, TLC, Planet Green, etc. Sounds like a neat group to work for if you’re into animals, or exploring/saving the planet. Petfinder says of itself the following:
“Petfinder is an online, searchable database of animals who need homes. It is also a directory of more than 13,000 animal shelters and adoption organizations across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Organizations maintain their own home pages and available-pet databases.”
The folks at Petfinder and the myriad of other individual adoption sites know that pet lovers have become accustomed to using the Web to find pets that best match their needs. Online searches allow them to access an individual shelter’s Web page and find out what kind of pets they have, what the rules of adoption are, whether they are no-kill shelters, how they take care of their animals, etc., etc.
Petfinder is made up of animal-care professionals and everyday animal-lovers who volunteer for local and national animal welfare organizations and groups. Together, these people maintain active and accurate homeless pet lists, and Petfinder acts as a central database for most of these organizations. It is very much like a one-stop shopping mall for pets online.
Gotta read this one
I’ll close out with the tale of one rescued tail, this one attached to a fawn-and-white Whippet named Dapper
who was jettisoned to the ASPCA because he was ill and his owner didn’t take the time to find out what exactly was wrong. An employee took interest in the dog, however, had him examined and the problem turned out to be minimal. The result? The loving owner writes:
“As the saying toes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. What a gem! Dapper was easily assimilated into my furry family of one Italian Greyhound and three cats – ass rescues. He aced his obedience class and went on to a career as a therapy dog, working with mentally challenged adults and nursing home residents. However, his most important work was with young men and women dying from AIDS-related illnesses. His story of being cast out because of an illness struck home with many. By empathizing with a skinny, old Whippet, they could finally express their own pain and anger.” (http://www.petfinder.com/before-pet-adoption/tale-dapper-dog.html)
What else is there to say other than, “Wow!” Or maybe even (grrrr…) “Bow Wow?”
“The social media is the biggest change in society since the industrial revolution,” proclaims an eye-popping video posted recently on YouTube.
After reading the support for this claim, I am inclined to agree. And, like a lot of you, I’m wondering where these changes will lead us in the future.
We’re talking about media rituals here, or any lifestyle habit we succumb to that is created and/or influenced by the media.
Turn the radio on
For example, radio altered the lives of most Americans when it began offering nightly entertainment and news programming. Families who had previously spent the evenings talking or reading, came to spend them clustered around the big furniture cabinet spewing out the comedy of Fibber McGee and Molly or the daring adventures of The Shadow.
Television did the same thing, as did the Internet, and the social media of Facebook, twitter, flickr, YouTube, Myspace, et al, are doing the same thing now.
Marshalling a thought
The late media guru Marshall McLuhan would be telling us from the Other Side, “I told you so! The medium is the message!”
And that brings me back to this YouTube video produced by a futurist named Erik Qualman who has written a book called “Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business.” It’s found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIFYPQjYhv8&feature=related
Qualman is a 38-year-old Michigan native who graduated in business from Michigan State University, where he played basketball, and then got an MBA from the University of Texas. He is now global vice president of Digital Marketing for EF Education, headquartered in Lucerne, Switzerland, and is a professor of digital marketing for Hult International Business School.
As a columnist and blogger for Search Engine Watch and ClickZ Magazine, he spends a lot of time doing essentially what I do with this blog, only he gets paid more for it. Amazing what an MBA will do for you.
Fasten your seatbelt
Here are a few boldface observations Mr. Qualman makes about our world and the way social media are changing our lives. Because I can’t help myself, I’ve added a comment to each of his insights. If you’re not sitting down, perhaps now would be a good time to do so.
• Over 50 percent of the world’s population is under 30. For those of us toward the other end of the life cycle, this is depressing news enough.
• 96 percent of Millennials have joined a social network. And, BTW, a lot of their parents and grandparents have done the same thing.
• If Facebook were a country, it would be the world’s third largest. I’m still searching for a word to express my amazement at this. “Wow!” just doesn’t quite cut it.
• Facebook tops Google for weekly Web traffic in the U.S. This isn’t bad for a media site that had to have Leslie Stahl explain its basic workings to America just two years ago. It’s also not a bad startup venture for a guy named Mark Zuckerberg who is now all of 26.
• Social media have overtaken pornography as the #1 activity on the Web. If this is true, then it shows that not all new media rituals are bad for us.
• 1 out of 8 couples married in the U.S. last year met via the social media. Like several of Mr. Qualman’s observations, I don’t know how this one was established or what it’s based on. But I do know one thing: This is how I met my wife 10 years ago.
• Radio took 38 years to reach 50 million users; TV 13 years. The Internet took only 4 years, and the iPod did it in 3. We are becoming fast learners, no?
• Facebook added more than 200 million users in less than a year. I wonder if Mr. Zuckerberg has bought him a real bed yet with all the money he’s raking in. Two years ago he told Leslie Stahl he has only a mattress on the floor.
• The U.S. Department of Education revealed in a 2009 study that online students outperformed those receiving face-to-face instruction. OK, now this is a study I would really like to see for myself. I find it just a tad hard to believe, as well as being overgeneralized.
• 1 out of 6 higher education students are enrolled in online courses. This I do believe, and I teach some of them.
• The fastest growing segment of users on Facebook is females age 55 to 65. I learned long ago not to make pronouncements about the lifestyle habits – and motivations behind them — of women. This is pretty startling, though.
• Ashton Kutcher and Britney Spears have more Facebook followers than the entire populations of Sweden, Israel, Switzerland, Ireland, Panama, and Norway. Well, these two celebrity icons are easier on the eye than parts of Belfast or the Gaza Strip.
• Generation Y and Z consider e-mail passe’. And this news comes at a time when my public library is just starting a new class for seniors on how to log on to your e-mail accounts.
• What happens in Vegas says on Facebook, twitter, flickr, and YouTube. Vegas aside, I think I wrote a couple posts a few months ago on what the social media are doing to our private lives.
• 100+ hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every 4.5 minutes. And the YouTube monitors take down an equal amount, some of which are movies I was hoping to see before they were deemed to have copyright problems.
• If you were paid $1 for every article posted on Wikipedia, you would earn $1,712.32 per hour. Interesting, but tell me again how the owners of Wiki are making any money at all?
• There are over 200 million blogs. Which, of course, is why no one is reading mine.
• 78 percent of consumers trust peer reviews of products and services; 14 percent trust advertisements. This is another way of saying we have all become advertising execs, without the pay or other perks of the Mad Men.
• Kindle eBooks outsold paper books last Christmas. Again, I would like to see the source of this assertion. Just too hard to believe.
• Successful companies in social media act more like Dale Carnegie and less like Mad Men: listening first, selling second. If so, this is a change that is long overdue.
And the final observation is one that any journalist or media executive should turn into a screensaver for his or her laptop. As for trying to divine what the implications are, good luck. It goes like this:
• We no longer search for the news. The news finds us. And we no longer search for products and services. They will find us. And they will find us on the social media.