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Is Digital (and Social) Impersonal?
This morning I wrestled with -- what should be a trivial -- annual decision: holiday greeting e-card or printed card (recycled, of course)? The voices within my head (and from my colleagues) called for digital. After all, it’s the ecological-friendly and responsible decision. It’s also current – this is the digital age!
My hang-up about the e-card revolves around its (perceived) impersonal nature. Are they read? Or, even opened? Do they elicit any feelings of warmth or goodwill for being remembered? I’m doubtful.
Could this be the case with traditional printed cards as well? Perhaps, but I always opened the cards that I received, looked to see who signed it, placed it on my desk (or somewhere in my office) as a daily visible reminder, and thought (usually fondly) about the sender. To achieve that same affect with the cards that I would send, I’d take the time to write a little note before my signature and if time permitted, handwrite the addresses rather than using printed labels.
What is it that makes e-cards less personal? Certainly, it can’t be the handwriting! Rather, I tend to think it comes from the perception that it’s broadcast, rather than directed solely to the recipient. Yes, the print card has many of the same characteristics: purchased in bulk, same message & form, and sent to a (often lengthy) list of friends. Does the fact that its digital make it seem more like a megaphone than a telephone? Does the electronic nature of the e-card dictate a faster pace for viewing and discarding? Unfortunately, I think that it does. If so, what does that say about social media?
Is social media by its very nature impersonal? How do social media participants overcome this hurdle?
One way to overcome the impersonal nature of digital is to direct a statement towards another person, by using DM or @username in Twitter for example. Another way is for the speaker to reveal something personal about herself – a thought, characteristic, situation, etc. That personal statement(s), although not directed to a specific listener, can evoke an attachment from anyone who hears it and can relate to it – either in a positive or negative manner. Interestingly enough, when a speaker successfully overcomes this impersonal barrier – by revealing something telling of his nature – social media conversations become more meaningful for everyone listening. The true meaning behind actions and thoughts emerge. Perhaps, social media monitoring really starts to be effective when we can sift through the broadcast noise to get at the revealing content, where its speaker has found a way to make social media, truly social –a conversation rather than a microphone.
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