Conversation vs. Connection

In October 2012, Facebook hit a new milestone – 1 billion users.  Most people recognize the powerful potential inherent in the ability of social networking sites to connect people on this unprecedented scale.   An insightful op-ed featured in the New York Times, however, captured an entirely different perspective.  In her article titled “The Flight From Conversation”, Sherry Turkle reached a startling conclusion: “we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.”

My discovery of this article was not by accident.  I’d just had my cellphone stolen and found myself struggling to navigate the world without it.  I felt utterly disconnected and realized just how truly dependent I’d become upon the little device.  I no longer had the convenience of texting, or the limitless connections provided by social media sites constantly at my fingertips.  I was intrigued by my reaction and so began researching this phenomenon.

One study conducted by the social discovery site Badoo reported that nearly 40% of Americans now spend more time socializing via the Internet than they do in real life.  It was no wonder I felt disconnected!  The implications of that statistic are immense; especially great for my generation of “millennials” who have grown up alongside the development of these technologies.  Small surprise we’ve been dubbed “the always-connected generation”.

This label and what it implies led Turkel to the conclusions highlighted in her article.  She suggests that while we’re able to create an unparalleled capacity of connections, those relationships tend be much shallower than those established in the real world.  We have high accessibility to so many people, but technology allows us to keep them at a comfortable distance.  We’re choosing breadth over depth and a virtual world over the real world.

The consequence of socializing primarily online is the potential loss of face-to-face to communication skills, a skillset critical for future success.  Behaviors of the millennial generation are often viewed as anti-social – preoccupations with cell phones, wearing earphones while working, and avoiding eye contact during conversation.  The ability to engage in conversation and appear confident in social situations is vital when trying to impress a client, colleague, or superior.

It’s not surprising that a reliance on virtual world communications could lead to a deficiency in real world abilities.  Just like texting while maintaining eye contact with the person across from you requires practice, so too does face-to-face communication.  Luckily, Fuse and the Chamber provide ample opportunities to practice this by hosting frequent networking events.  With the mission of “connecting young people to strengthen our community,” Fuse seeks to assist in the development of real-world social networks.  Register for an event today and make the commitment to develop your skills.

While there, remember to refrain from using your cellphone as a crutch.  The purpose of attending is to network with the people who are actually there.  Focus on making fewer connections, but make them on a more meaningful level.  An important point Turkle makes regarding the difficultly of transitioning from online to offline communications is that within our online communications, we have the ability to edit.  Communications online aren’t instantaneous and allow ample time to formulate an appropriate response.  In real life situations, you need to be able to think and respond quickly and you do not have the luxury of backspacing away an inadequate response.

The three weeks I went without a cellphone lent me a new perspective.  Use technology as it was intended – to enhance your life, not to dominate it.  We all live in our own little bubbles, constantly staring down at our cell phones communicating with someone located miles away rather than looking up and engaging in conversation with the person actually there.  To all my fellow Millennials reading this, don’t grant validity to the prevalent stereotypes we often face.  Avert your eyes from your mobile device and join us in the real world.  There’s much to see.