Facebook and FaceTime Won’t Replace Face-to-Face

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The Wall Street Journal recently wrote a page 1 story on real, live Japanese men who take vacations with their virtual girlfriends.  With no need for an actual human counterpart, this Nintendo-powered “LovePlus+” virtual dating experience is perhaps the ultimate apotheosis of high tech social media in rendering the human “social” component obsolete.

        

The predilections of this subset of Japanese salarymen aside (let alone what would-be Delaware Senator Christine O’Donnell might think), technology and social media have actually brought the rest of us closer together through myriad new ways to exchange information and ideas, forge common ground and really, actually connect with each other out in cyberspace.

            

Websites, webcasts, webinars and wikis. Podcasts and portals. YouTube, LinkedIn and Skype. Blogs, vlogs, VOIP and video conferencing. Flickr, Facebook, FaceTime. Twitter (which itself modestly notes, “is without a doubt the best way to share and discover what is happening right now”). And this is just the beginning of a tiny sliver of what’s out there, of course.  The explosion of social media platforms and other meaningfully interactive Internet environments has created unprecedented ways for people and the organizations they form to communicate, collaborate, share and connect today. The human experience lost by first generation “talking at you” web platforms – modeled more on traditional broadcast and mass media than on an understanding of how to harness the power of interactive media – is quickly being redefined with new and dynamic social media platforms that lead the way in rehumanizing the online experience.

              

Still, the value of open dialogue, exchange and interaction offered through face-to-face, in-person interactions has never gone and will never go away. Why? Even with revolutionary advances, human communication and understanding still depend on immersion and context that often can’t be captured even by new social media, as fantastic as it may be.  Despite all the ingenuity and advances of virtual interaction, face-to-face communication and human-to-human connection remain essential for people and organizations to share information, bring ideas to life, forge common ground, inspire allegiance and deepen relationships among employees, partners and customers.

     

This may be the dying polemic of an old guy, but all the non-verbal communication – body language and facial expressions, from the arched eyebrow to the eye roll to the wink, as well as the tone and significance of raised pitch versus an ironic aside – can easily escape notice, let alone scrutiny in the virtual world. Because what we experience is sensory rather than strictly analytical, the consyntagmatic meaning of the most well-crafted communications can fall short, regardless of the emoticon appended to an email or text message.

New ways have emerged and evolved to create experiences that better educate, engage and immerse to influence the rational, emotional and self-expressive needs that guide human behavior. As technology advances, a range of multimedia alternatives create new approaches for delivering compelling communications that are both interactive and informative in live environments. A smart, well-crafted message delivered across live multimedia platforms creates opportunities not only to inform and engage, but also the chance to inspire.  An effective and efficient in-person communicative event that enables people to see, hear, touch and feel can be as crucial to organizational change and forging common purpose as an enterprise-wide technology transformation. And it’s not about pumping music, smoke machines and pyrotechnics (although they can have a role, too).

   

In the brave new world of social media and beyond, face-to-face communication and interaction will remain fundamental to connecting people, communicating goals, forging strategies, setting expectations, implementing organizational strategy and developing the shared purpose that undergirds long-term success.  Tony King noted in the Financial Times, “In this wonderful world of multimedia, no matter what twists or turns technology will take, one thing will remain self-evident, content is king.” This quote from 1993 is now 17 years old, but the premise remains true for both whizbang new social media and old school non-virtual (to wit, in person) interactions. Compelling content matters today more than ever to create interactions that engage, educate, excite, and yes, connect . . . even if only with your virtual girlfriend.

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