(Mis)Communication in the Social Media Age

Social Media Breakfast at SXSW – As you can see we're all chatting, just not with each other.

I miss the pre-social media world sometimes, back then ignorance was bliss.

Communicating Back Then

Growing up in the 70’s meant no cell phones or Netbooks. We sent all our correspondences via snail mail and any phone calls came to the house or office. Most of us had one phone in our homes, but some of the more well off families had extensions upstairs, and even separate phones for the kids. No one ever called during dinner hours or after 9:00.

We received our news from newspapers, magazines or one of a half dozen television stations and always had to wait for the designated hours for updates. If there was an emergency, the news would break into our regularly scheduled programming but that was extremely rare. We weren’t always connected and didn’t feel the need to be. In 1977, I was 13 years old. If you had offered me a phone to take everywhere with me, I would have thought you were crazy. Why on earth would I need to call people that much? Yet now, at least where I live, most 13 year olds are connected via cell phone and email.

We had penpals. We wrote to them now and again, usually when our parents reminded us. We sent handwritten “thank you” cards and Christmas cards and everyone marveled at our good manners. We didn’t need to know what all our friends and relatives where doing all day, every day, and that suited us just fine, thank you very much. Today, we know which of our friends are at the airport, what our cousins are having for dinner and who is checking in at the supermarket. Though I’m very proud of being the Mayor of both Stop N’ Shop and Saladworks, I couldn’t give you one good reason why you even need to know I’ve been there.

Communicating Now

When I asked my husband for a smart phone for Christmas I thought it would be kind of convenient to have for occasionally checking email or the odd Twitter update. Who knew it would be come a total extension of me? If you see me and I’m not checking Facebook or Gmail, there’s a good chance I’m about to. I went to a family reunion last fall and everyone under 50 sat in silence for about an hour as we checked our phones for updates. We finally interacted as we began befriending each other on Facebook.

You want to know the funniest thing about all this connectivity? All the social media people (including me) are insisting it’s all about the conversation. Yet we go to conferences and meet ups and sit at tables talking to people online instead of each other. We attend speaking engagements and tweet updates instead of concentrating on what is being said at the podium. In the real world talking while someone else is talking is considered rude. In the social media world, we’re updating people and building trust via conversation.


It’s not a secret that I love my Facebook and Twitter, and couldn’t live without blogging. I wonder though, are we going too far? Do you care that my dog chewed the couch or that my son hit a home run?  How does it help my business for you to know we’re barbecuing over the weekend? There was a time we would never let anyone know where we lived or what we do when we’re offline, for fear of our safety. Now, there are whole social networks designed to track our every move.

I know we all use the various social networks and social media tools differently, and we’re all in charge of how much information we put out there. However, in our fun I hope we’re also being careful. Communication is cool and all, but there’s such a thing as too much information. It’s why you’ll never see me mention my husband or son’s name, and why the only places I check into on FourSquare aren’t located near my home.

I love my social media, but there’s something to be said about not be connected to every network. No one needs to know that much about someone else.

What do you think? Are we too connected?

Image via Brandon Eley





8 responses
  1. Claire Wagner Avatar

    I’m guilty and the question bothers me, too. On the other hand, my husband is relieved because he’s a busy exec and now when he pulls out his crackberry at dinner, I don’t care. But is that quality couple time? No! I think we need to start unplugging more. I also am worried that I’m going to go blind because of my little iPhone — I have very bad eyesight as it is.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      Claire, I never realized what an addiction social media is for me until my husband gave me the Droid. Now, we do have rules and phones and laptops aren’t allowed at the dinner table, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t considered it.

      You know what my biggest problem is, though? If I don’t work on the weekend, the work piles up. If I don’t check emails all weekend, I’ll have 3,000 in my inbox between Friday night and Monday morning.

      But we’re keeping in touch, right?

  2. Ruth Seeley Avatar

    No one ever called during the dinner hour or after 9PM? That’s certainly not my experience of growing up in the late 60s/early 70s. Simply in terms of personal productivity, having to call someone over and over again just to leave them a message drove me batty. Answering machines and voice mail couldn’t have been more welcome, as was the ability to update a group of people via email rather than fax (oh I how I have always hated fax machines) or by typed, photocopied, and distributed memo.

    What you’re identifying is really an etiquette issue, and one we, as a wired society, need to resolve. If you’re so wired you can’t turn your phone off or resist glancing at your email or social networking sites when you’re at social events, I think you need to rethink things. I don’t hesitate to tell people who constantly check their PDAs when they’re visiting or meeting with me, “I’m giving you my complete and undivided attention. I’d appreciate the same in return.”
    .-= Ruth Seeley´s last blog ..Tribes – or what you can learn by reading fiction =-.

  3. Tanya Payne Avatar

    Deb, I couldn’t agree more. I was just ranting to a colleague earlier today about a PR gent tweeting his location, 24/7. From what time he arrives to work, when/where he’s meeting clients, when he leaves work, what yoga studio he frequents, ‘hey I picked up a street basketball game at so-and-so park,’ it’s all TMI.

    The constant stream useless info and his inability to discern what construes private from public info leads me to believe he’s a narcissist, lost touch with his importance and reality.

    I blog, I comment, I tweet, I love social media. But it’s easy to see the parts of our collective common-sense that have been sliced away.
    .-= Tanya Payne´s last blog ..Funding: You Can Overcome the Odds =-.

  4. Kimberlee Avatar

    I hear you Deb. Though I prefer to watch TV on the Internet (and will probably turn my computer into an entertainment center), I still think we’re too connected sometimes. Thing is, I’m terrible about calling people and my family always complaining that I don’t stay in touch, so I find that FB helps me stay connected to a close network. I’ve met some pretty cool peeps online, some of whom have become really close friends. Its a double-edged sword because I also feel like most of my closest friends live in other parts of the country and even the world.

    I must say that when my family gathers though, we tend to engage with each other and I’ve never seen people more focused on their PDAs than on the folks IRL. I do wonder sometimes why I need to know someone is heading to the airport or getting coffee or heading to the gym. I like to engage but maybe we should engage regarding the information we share about the world and not on such a personal level. But hey, I write a blog where I discuss personal details of my life. LOL
    .-= Kimberlee´s last blog ..Free-Range victory: The boy gets to bike to school! =-.

  5. Toya Avatar

    Yes, we definitely are way too connected. In a time when technology claims we are more connected than ever we have become epidemically emotionally disconnected to the ones who should matter the most.
    .-= Toya´s last blog ..Sponzi post =-.

  6. Mary E. Ulrich Avatar
    Mary E. Ulrich

    I remember the days when we had one phone, one black and white TV with 3 channels, and 2 parents, 6 kids with one bathroom…. I remember the fights over who would have to wash/dry the dishes (yea-no dishwasher) and the only way to privately talk to your friends was to stretch the phone cord down the hallway, hide in the closet and whisper–imagine a phone that couldn’t be moved with long spirally cords attached to the wall. Bet YA mystery writers could create a horror movie about that one.

    God, I’m feeling old.

    If the word, “communication” comes from the Latin/Old French meaning “share with” we may have to create a new word for what we do on Twitter/Facebook… we just “shout out” and “share” but the “with” in cyberspace is hard to define. We don’t really know if our message is going to real people or imaginary virtual friends who are using us to up their numbers.

    Is our message a real communication? or do some people consider our messages spam? or inconsequential? or is this a symptom of a psychological need of wanting to belong, having a voice… Where is Issac Asimov when we need him? Bet he could write a dandy SF novel in a series of 130 characters.

    Wonder what “communication” will look like in another 50 years? Will the droids be tweeting humans? Wait with auto-responders they are already doing that!

  7. allena Avatar

    I had a weekend away with my hubby without the laptop and crackberry and it went just fine. I liked it, actually. When we go to the house in Mexico, I love, love being unconnected from the US, but I do bring my crackberry to the bigger cities for a quick update.

    I like to hear that your dog chewed the couch, cause it saves my sanity to know that I’m not the only one up to my eyeballs in bull* every day 😉

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