It is difficult to remember a time when or place in everyday life wasn’t impacted by the tools of the digital revolution, a time when a conversation with distant loved ones did not include vehicles like Facebook, Twitter or Email to name only a few. Those who adapted to social media as it grew and developed remember different times and ways of communication than many of today’s youth ever will. The most recent generation will grow up never knowing a time without smartphones, Netflix and Wi-Fi. “Generation C”, as they have become known, is not delineated by a decade of birth, as with Baby Boomers or the Millennials, but it’s an umbrella term for a generation of consumers connected through social media and mobile devices. Our siblings who help program the smartphone are members of Generation C.
The Internet has changed almost every aspect of modern life. Those who have embraced the social aspects of the digital world comprise a unique segment of the population that is comfortable sharing not only their most mundane thoughts but also the most intimate details of their personal lives, often with people who they have never met or are likely to ever meet. About one in seven people around the globe use a social networking site at least once a month and that number is expected to grow significantly over the next several years. It is predicted that by 2017, 2.33 billion people will use social networks. Today it is as common to shop and purchase the newest widget as it is to meet, cultivate and acquire a personal relationship, all without ever having the opportunity to measure a human tone, share a touch or experience the revelation of a single look. Studies show that only 7% of communication is based on the written or verbal word. A whopping 93% is based on nonverbal body language.
Social technologies have broken the barriers of space and time, enabling us to interact 24/7 with more people than ever before. But like any revolutionary concept, it has spawned a set of new barriers and threats. In an ironic twist, social media has the potential to make us less social; a surrogate for the real thing. While the new social communication environment has opened up the ability for each of us to expand our reach to the whole of the world, it may also be challenging the authenticity of our messages.
Social media is definitely changing the way we communicate, and in many ways it’s for the better as we expand our social circles and explore new horizons through our online connections. But awash in technology, anyone can hide behind the text, the e-mail, the Facebook post or the tweet, projecting any image they want and creating an illusion of their choosing. With virtual conversations, people cannot see, hear, or touch. In discussing sensitive and personal topics with other users, it is impossible to know the immediate impact of our words. We cannot see furrowed brows, bit lips, or clenched fists.
This presents an unprecedented paradox. With all the powerful social technologies at our fingertips, we are more connected, and potentially more disconnected, than ever before. With the prevalence of smartphones and popularity of texting it is not uncommon to see people glued to their technology even in social settings. Though we’re no less social, we are more distracted. Putting down our social media connections to focus on the ones right in front of us is something that takes a real effort and an exercise completely foreign to the social media generation.
But a trend is beginning to take root within the younger Social media generations. They are deeply hungry for meaningful face-to-face interactions and deeper, more meaningful communication, but feel they have to devise a new approach in order to get beyond shallow chit-chat offered up by a plethora of social media connections. The social media generation may appear to be the most connected, but they may, in fact, be the most disconnected.
Working the mechanics and connecting through the new social communication technologies is one thing, but practicing and refining the art of authentic communication beyond the technology remains the most important aspect to making a meaningful social connection.