Tag Archives: interaction

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.

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Strong and weak ties: Why your weak ties matter

imageStrong and weak ties are both relevant and important in your social networking interactions. They perform different functions in relationships but they can extend your network far beyond your normal reach.  Using and maintaining your socially weak ties can bring far-reaching benefits outside of your normal relationships. 

Think how you use LinkedIn for example.  Are all of your relationships “strong ties?”  Do you count all of your connections as good friends?  Or are they colleagues who you occasionally interact with?  Are they important to you at all?  Should they be?

Are your Facebook relationships all strong ties, or do you stick to Dunbars number theory?  You’ll probably find several sets of weak ties in your social networks once you start to look.  Do you connect with them?  Do you watch their activity feeds?  Do they look at your feeds to keep in touch?

Mark Granovetter refers to your strong ties as your friends and your weak ties as your acquaintances in his paper “Notes on the strength of weak ties”  Mark talks about the interpersonal relationships between different, disparate groups of people  and how they hold different sections of society together.  As humans, we can have both strong and weak tie relationships in our normal networks.  We can multiplex these relationships.  We are weak ties to some of our connections and strong ties to others.  Just like a network multiplexer our weak ties can carry both types of signals around our network.

In social networking these ties are crucial.  Think about strong and weak ties in the following way:

A strong tie is someone who you know well. You’ve probably got their number on your phone.  You interact with them on social networking sites. There is good 2 way conversation, and even if you don’t know everything about them, you know them pretty well and information flows freely.  We know the same information. 

  • Think about a group of geeks talking about technology.  They all follow the same news streams and all know what’s going on in the technology world.

A weak tie is a more tenuous relationship.  Once a year, you may  send them a Christmas message promising to be in touch more often.  If you look up their number, they are surprised to hear from you. You have different interests and don’t interact much.  You might have kept their business card in case it comes in handy one day. 

  • Think about a couple of your friends who understand technology but you wouldn’t class them as geeks.  Whilst they are on the edges of your circle of influence – they don’t follow the technology news as much as you do.  They have interests in other areas and aren’t as up to date technology wise.

However, these weak ties are crucial in binding groups of strong ties together.  They bring circles of networks into contact with each other, strengthening relationships and forming new bonds between existing relationship circles.

 as Mark says:

The weak tie between Ego <sic> and his acquaintance, therefore,becomes not merely a trivial acquaintance tie but rather a crucial bridge between the two densely knit clumps of close friends

These friends might have information that is mutually beneficial to each other, but more importantly, these ties encourage sharing of information across different groups.

Lets say I lived in a socially cohesive group consisting almost entirely of red wine drinkers. (Actually that could be true!). I would never get any information from the coffee drinkers at the edges of my network, as I only communicated with the red wine drinkers.  I might miss the new brand of red wine flavoured coffee that would add to the range of red wine I drink.  Focusing entirely on red wine means I’d miss the opportunity enjoyed by all of my coffee drinking weak ties. You get the idea..

I might miss other opportunities too.  Back to Mark:

…individuals with few weak ties will be deprived of information from distant parts of the social system and will be confined to the provincial news and views of their close friends. This deprivation will not only insulate them from the latest ideas and fashions but may put them in a disadvantaged position…

Weak ties might bring you the crucial information about a new job opportunity, a new start up business or new connections into other areas of your peripheral business.  Your relationship with your weak ties should be maintained and cultivated, knitting your networks together to encourage information free flow between the different parts of your networks.  This information flow could be information you need to get ahead in your own work, or it might be recommendations and information about your skills and abilities to get you the job / contract / opportunity you’ve been looking for.

Perhaps its time to get in touch with some of your long forgotten acquaintances and see what information you’ve been missing…

Image credit: flickr

Eileen Brown is a social media consultant 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.

Fickle fans on Facebook

So Facebook engagement is fickle and varies month on month.  Here’ are the latest stats from Fangager showing the change in the top 5 rankings from last month….

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Its interesting to watch these stats change – and also interesting to see how social media campaigns need to be enduring, ongoing and continual interaction with fans and followers – otherwise fans will turn away…