Do our devices stop us from ‘really’ communicating with each other?

It’s odd how we keep some of our SMS messages and discard others.  A text from a loved one, stays in our phone for ages and ages.

And yet we communicate with our friends and family using status messages, tweets and updates. We do this more than we talk to them face to face. 

Social media has the ability to keep us connected to people who we would never normally interact with.  Those casual acquaintances, friends and colleagues who we would forget about if we had to communicate with them face to face.

And yet, with tools like Facebook, we are aware of what our casual friends do on a day by day basis. We become a silent watcher of their lives, a lurker, a stalker.  We don’t usually interact with them, and yet we know so much about them. With the onslaught of mobile, and our utter reliance on the divide in our pocket (remember – we’re addicted to smartphones according to Ofcom).

Things that we might have found disturbing a few years ago, we do freely.  We advertise our presence to the world when we check in to a location.  Are we expecting that other, similarly connected people will join us at our location?

We use social tools when we’re in meetings, tweeting about how bored we are with the meeting.  Sometimes, we’re encouraged to do this, so that the live Twitter feed can be displayed for others to read. 

We check our emails as soon as we wake, through our meals.  We take photographs of our food as a permanent record of what we have consumed. Our phones, designed to facilitate communication with others become the barrier to our human communication and interaction.

We are so busy being productive that we ignore our families.  They are plugged in, online, listening to music and updating their friends on Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and BlackBerry Messaging.

Sherry Turkle talks about being the new way of being ‘Alone Together’ at TED this year.  She talks about us hiding from each other, whilst being connected to each other.  Laptops in meetings provide a barrier to the rest of the group.  They might not want to interrupt that busy person from their emails.  The laptop is a safe place to hide behind.

But are we killing the art of human interaction and face to face conversation?

The video talks about our presenting ourselves as we want to be.  We are not the same person online and offline.  We get to ‘retouch’ the parts of us, until they are just right.

We use the conversations with each other to learn how to have conversations with ourselves.

And technology is enabling this chasm between human interaction and interacting with devices.  We are developing sociable robots that offer companionship. such as the Unified communications robots help patients get better, the Mask bot- The robot with the human face and Argumentative Chatbots.

Sherry nails in one sentence how this is changing the way we interact with each other:

We expect more from technology and less from each other

Does technology appeal more when we are vulnerable?  Do we pour out our heart and soul through blogs, status updates, emails and texts.  Is it just because we are lonely that we reach for that connected device?

Can we bear to be alone?  Does social technology truly define who we are?

   Without connections will we be more alone?  Is solitude the thing that we should be aiming for – to get us used to being us. 

Then and only then, can we be truly authentic online.

Eileen is a social business strategist, ZDNet columnist and author of Working The Crowd: Social Media Marketing for Business. Contact her to find out how she can help your business extend its reach.