Friday, May 9, 2014

"Social" Media .... Really?

"No I didn't download you off the Internet. 
I gave birth to you. End of discussion!"

I sat the other morning in a coffee shop, observing the people around me as I sipped my fancy Starbucks concoction. It's something I enjoy ... slowing down and taking the time to turn the spotlight off myself and focus outward. So, I watch and listen -- an anonymous observer of life and its pulsing energy. But I've noticed a trend lately ... and it both confuses and disturbs me.

More and more often, it isn't conversation and laughter I note. And, I don't think I'm alone in noticing the demise of conversation and the rise of technology as our key communication tool. Instead of words, there is a steady drum of pings and clicks, little beeps and eclectic sounds. Instead of locking eyes with the people around me as they move about their day, I catch the color of fancy phone cases. Instead of conversation, I hear a steady rhythm of typing.

It seems today's trendiest communication techniques have little to do with actual "communication" and everything to do with symbols and acronyms. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, mySpace, Flicker, YouTube, LinkedIn and a host of other programs with fancy logos represent a trend known as Social Media. Many of these are foreign to me ... beyond my comprehension. But they encompass the current generation's method of communication. I hear that if you don't use these tools, you are doomed to a poor career and dull personal life. But what I can't figure out is how these technologies obtained the power to dominate our communication patterns. And how I'm supposed to feel when a relative stranger "endorses" me for skills on LinkedIn, follows me on Twitter, and asks to be my Friend on Facebook ...

A "few" years ago, I graduated from Albion College with a dual degree in English and Speech Communication. Both of these programs helped me learn to articulate ideas, comprehend text and speak proficiently and with authority to others. To get my Speech Communication degree, I took classes in verbal and non-verbal communication, explored dyadic and small group communication patterns, took a look at mass communication techniques as well as courses in public relations, rhetoric, persuasion, argumentation and advocacy, intercultural communication and public speaking. I even took a class on communication theory. My grades in these classes were exemplary. Not bragging just saying that -- in short -- when I graduated, I knew a thing or two about English Literature, Grammar and many, many aspects of Communication.

But this program did not prepare me for the dramatic changes in "communication" and the rise of "Social" Media.  These courses never suggested the demise of verbal, face-to-face communication nor did they hint that we would be checking in, texting and tweeting every move and learning from a program called YouTube. While these classes helped me build an impressive resume, they did not instruct me on how best to present myself using LinkedIn. Seriously, who could predict that our Social patterns would dissolve into typing our thoughts and ideas into an on-screen Timeline for people to follow?

I don't think I'm alone when I say that yes, I am "linked in" to many of these programs. I have a LinkedIn and Facebook Account. I even have an Instagram and Twitter Account with  a handful of followers and a few people that I follow ... though where we are going and how this program helps me get there still eludes me.

I joined Facebook a few years ago to connect with friends from my past ... I found a few of them from my days at Valparaiso High School and Albion College as well as people who've moved out of my current circle. We shared pictures and reminisced. I didn't expect Facebook (or Twitter for that matter) to turn into a place to post my every activity or check in to inform my followers and friends about my latest thought, discovery, activity, idea, meal, mistake, or political agenda. I don't use it to lash out at others or condemn different ideas or opinions. But that seems to be what it has become. And it is thru these programs that we make ourselves known ... And what goes there, stays there. Transparency in our lives is no more. 

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I prefer talking, creating and sustaining my relationships face-to-face. If my fingers do the walking in conversation, it's usually because I talk with my hands and I will inevitably reach out and touch your arm in expressing an idea. Yeah, I'll text you. But, I'd rather call you ... speak to you.

Last night, I sat with a friend and talked. Looked her in the eye and just spent time catching up. We laughed a lot and enjoyed a couple glasses of Prosecco as well as some popcorn. Pretty simple stuff. Before I realized, 3 hours had passed. During that time, the only time electronics came into play was to show pictures of her recent vacation. I didn't "check in." I didn't scroll FB messages. I was present and in the moment.

No offense ... but when I sit with my son, he is constantly checking his phone. His Twitter feed seems to be his link to the world. And, he's not alone. I worry that the art of dyadic or small group communication is going to be lost for his generation. I worry that it will never be found. That kids will grow up knowing only how to communicate with a "smart phone," iPad or other tablet device.  Kids don't use their phones to TALK. They use them to Tweet and Text. And they use them All The Time ... even when they are sitting next to each other!

Just an observation but it seems this Social Media stuff isolates us more than it brings us together ...

As a teenager, I found myself in trouble more than a few times for tying up the phone line. I had a 20 minute limit that I was always blasting past, preventing calls from getting to my parents. This was, of course, before VoiceMail during a time when the concept of a private conversation was limited by the length of a phone cord ... by how far that cord would stretch.  Bottom line ... I liked to talk to my friends. It's something I still enjoy today.

Texts are okay. FB messages get simple ideas across. But my Social Media isn't Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, mySpace, Flicker, YouTube, or LinkedIn. It's Face to Face with the people important to me. But if that kind of Social Media is lost on our kids and the current generation to typing ideas, quips and thoughts, what happens to verbal interaction and the human touch? What happened to the idea of being Truly Connected to another person? How does this Social Media technology sustain true relationships? Seems more complicated and time consuming to me. More difficult than dialing 10 numbers and speaking to someone in real-time.

Social Media ... that's a contradiction in terms ... an oxymoron. Don't text me ... talk to me. Don't Follow me ... Arrange to meet me for a drink or coffee. Don't FB message me ... Call me. I love my gold iPhone 5s. But I love the look in your eyes, the sound of your voice and the human touch more.

Maybe it's just me, but who else wonders where all this Social Media came from anyway? Doesn't seem very Social to me.
                                                                                                                        -- Jenni