Saturday, August 14, 2010

To quote AT&T: Reach out and touch someone

There have been two conversations occurring all week simultaneously. The first is a conversation about "influence" in the world of social media. What are fans and followers really about? What is the tipping point where you actually have too many people in your network? What happens then?

The other conversation is a very different kind of lamentation. I've heard people talking about when art used to be presented on a series of layered boards, a process that seemed like magic. I had a conversation yesterday about how hard it is these days to present a complicated folding piece because now, more often than not, projects are presented via PDF, long distance.

What do these two conversations mean?

The Great Relationship Crash of the 21st Century

Chris Brogan posted earlier this week, as I did, to Julien's post about influence. Chris asked if we were coming to a social media crash. My greater concern is that we are heading for a relationship crash. With 24/7 access to friends and family and acquaintances, in-person get-togethers are getting, paradoxically, harder to put together. Have you noticed lately that if a friend is in town but you can't make it to see him or her, you figure, "Well, that's okay, I can still catch them on Facebook later." Have you noticed that when you do meet up with a friend with whom you are connected on Facebook, it's kind of hard to know what to talk about? We already know not only the big things, but things we would not have even thought to talk about 5-6 years ago. We know how our friend's dog is doing. We know, on the day of our meeting, that our friend is going to be cranky because kid #2 is teething. We know that our friend's mom is going in for a colonoscopy. I mean, really. Once you get to THAT point, what is there to talk about?

Is this a real relationship? People are very excited about Skype, and a lot of people get teary-eyed at the new iPhone commercials touting the video capabilities. But to me, these ads signify that we no longer understand what real connectivity is. Even if I had an iPhone with video connections, I wouldn't tell my husband I was pregnant via that impersonal medium. I wouldn't want to tell a hunk of plastic in my hands. I'd want to be there, to see the real facial expression, the real reaction. Is a grandfather seeing his grandchild via phone the same as seeing the grandchild in real life? I can't believe that the answer is yes, but it seems like society is pushing us that way. I don't like it.

The Personal Touch

I find all of this very difficult to interweave with my job in marketing. There is an increasing emphasis on "getting to know your customer." "Be human," the experts say. I have actually heard a story of a person refusing to do an in-person meeting because most of their clientele is spread out across the country, and they didn't want to show favoritism to a local by meeting in "real life." Huh?

Now, I know, I know. You can learn about your customers through studies of demographics. You can learn about them by looking at your Google Analytics report. But it seems to me like old fashioned things like hand shakes still could mean a lot. Learning the intonation of someone's voice to tell when they are being sarcastic would be key. How many times have you misread an e-mail or a tweet? Can you do all of this via programs like Skype or GoToMeeting? Sure, I suppose. But there's something about working with a real life person -- in person -- that adds depth to the experience. We are losing that today. And that's just in the world of marketing and business. What about friends and family?

The Ramifications

We don't know what the ramifications would be of a social media crash. Maybe you just quit using Twitter. It wears itself out. Maybe you create a half-dozen accounts to siphon your followers. But what happens if we hit a relationship crash? Do you think that increasing numbers of children are being told they are socially awkward by accident? Do you think that social anxiety is becoming more prominent as a condition just by chance? Do you think that great grey mass called "customers" is suspicious of companies and politicians for no apparent reason?

We're all becoming shadows to each other, flickering names, an avatar swinging by in the never ending twitter stream. We think we are being fed, socially, because we are in contact with people all of the time. But it is not the nurturing kind of contact that people need. We are digesting our friends and family in bite-sized bits of wonder. We are missing chances to relate in the offline world. What will the final ramifications of that kind of world be? I have no idea, but it worries me.

How about you?

1st image by Michal Zacharzewski.
2nd image by Mateusz Stachowski.

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