Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Has Technology Created a Society without Faces?

I get a lot of emails – many of us do. Email is such an efficient yet invisible form of communications. There are so many forums on the Internet where we can communicate with complete strangers, never having seen their faces.

It used to be only on online chat forums that this completely faceless form of communications ruled.

But now I’m finding more and more people are willing to actually do business without ever actually meeting the person or persons they are to be working with.

I know the days are long since gone where you’d conclude a deal with just a handshake. But at the very least, that handshake gave you the opportunity to look your business associate in the eyes.

By not seeing the people we are conducting business with, we’re creating a very different society than what we have been used too.

Email lacks the character in a person’s voice. There’s no body language to see if everyone really is on the same page. And there’s no small talk.

That’s the real loss. For years cultural anthropologists have told us we are social animals. We thrive in communities driven by many social interactions -- surrounded by small talk.

Small talk, water cooler chatter, even a simple smile and a warm “good morning” are all disappearing thanks to the faceless office of today.

It’s so easy to send off a quick email to a colleague, asking about the wife, their kids or them – but do you really expect them to give you a detailed answer? If they do, do you respond with heartfelt sympathy or concern?

Usually not – email isn’t the forum for doing such things. If you were really concerned, you’d call and ask – but as our society becomes more digital and less personal, that phone is getting all the heavier to lift.

And that’s really very sad, tragic even, because it is the social interaction in life which makes life worthy of living.

Sure, we have those funky characters called emoticons which are used to represent our feelings, but these can’t really replace the real thing. And, to muddy the waters further, most professional consultants advise the higher up on the corporate ladder you are, the less you use emoticons.

It may be cute if the receptionist sends out an email announcing the company picnic with emoticons scattered throughout. But when the president sends out an email full of winks, smiles, and maybe even the occasional rolling-on-the-floor-laughing, you start to question the minds of those in charge. You may even start looking for another job, fearing the worst.

I know the economy is global now – so it may not always be possible to simply walk over to the next cubicle to say "hi," or stop over at a colleague’s office for a quick coffee. Many companies have offices spanning several time zones, so that coffee break for one person may actually be in the middle of the night.

But it’s still sad to see the end of real interactions with real people – as technology makes it all the easier to hide behind our computers.

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