Is Human to Human communication dying?

in person communicationThis week I was privileged to have coffee with a good friend of mine who flew into London from Tokyo on a business trip and somehow in his busy schedule and mine we managed to have breakfast at The Ritz on Piccadilly.

After a delicious but expensive breakfast, we discussed some of the week’s latest and most recent stories in the media that we came across by email, social media and other collaboration tools. We discussed one particular story where a mum exchanged text messages with her daughter who was in school. They ‘chatted’ back and forth, the mum asking how things were going and daughter answering with positive statements followed by emoticons showing smiles, b-i-g smiles and hearts. Happiness. Later that night, her daughter attempted suicide. It came to light that she’d been holed up in her room, crying, and showing signs of depression — a completely different reality from the one that she conveyed in texts, Facebook posts, and tweets.

As human beings, our only real method of connection is through authentic communication. Studies show that only 7% of communication is based on the written or verbal word. A whopping 93% is based on nonverbal body language. Indeed, it’s only when we can hear a tone of voice or look into someone’s eyes that we’re able to know when “I’m fine” doesn’t mean they’re fine at all.

Engrossed with 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. They can be whoever they want to be. And without the ability to receive nonverbal cues, their audiences are none the wiser.

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.

Every relevant metric shows that we are interacting at fast speed and frequency through social media. But are we really communicating? With 93% of our communication context stripped away, we are now attempting to forge relationships and make decisions based on phrases. Abbreviations. Snippets. Emoticons. Which may or may not be accurate representations of the truth.

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. Is the focus now on communication quantity versus quality? Superficiality versus authenticity? In an ironic twist, social media has the potential to make us less social; a surrogate for the real thing. For it to be a truly effective communication vehicle, all parties bear a responsibility to be genuine, accurate, and not allow it to replace human contact altogether.

In the world of communications, email is now thought to be second fiddle to the likes of Twitter and Facebook. The always-on mentality has brought about these new ways to communicate that are faster than email, and much more fun.

face to faceIn the past we had a set of contacts, all of whom generally knew how to reach us via telephone, letter, or e-mail. Today, thanks in large part to social media and collaboration tools, there are many different levels of communicating. Our networks are larger than they’ve ever been, and we’ve more ways to communicate with those in them. Even if you’re not active on Facebook or Twitter, who you communicate with and how you communicate will probably have changed dramatically in the last year or two. This new connected era brings with it both opportunities and challenges, and it pays to know how to use each.

Studies from the Radicati Group show that 144.8 billion emails are sent every single day. Now that’s a lot of emails being passed back and forth! It doesn’t stop here, though. This number is projected to rise to 192.2 billion by 2016. Today, there are approximately 3.4 billion email accounts worldwide, with three-quarters of those owned by individual consumers.

A corporate cost and productivity analysis with some interesting if not alarming statistics is below:

  • The average worker checks their email 36 times per hour – Atlassian
  • The typical corporate user spends over 2 hours per day reading and responding to emails – McKinsey, the Social Economy
  • Professionals receive an average of 304 business emails per week – Atlassian
  • It typically takes 20-15 minutes to refocus on a project following an email – Microsoft
  • On average, the business user spends 28 hours per week writing emails – McKinsey

Add it up – pretty costly to an organisation and to the productivity (and sanity) of end users. According to NewsGator, “one Fortune 100 manufacturing company calculated that a simple 2% reduction in email volume could save $2.6 million per year”.

I think there needs to be a balance of email, social media and collaboration tools. What ever happened to picking up the phone? Or talking to someone face-to-face? Or do we not have time?

2 Replies to “Is Human to Human communication dying?”

Share your thoughts with us