When Thomas Edison and others began inventing and producing machines that could record and replay sound, there were loud protests. Musicians and concert halls took ads in newspapers and lobbied politicians to ban the devices, fearing for their jobs. They believed that if a person could buy a device and listen to it at home, there would be no reason to see a live performance.
Similarly, there are many who view social media as the death of face-to-face communication. The Internet, some believe, is rapidly turning us into a world of disconnected connections. There are fears that people’s ability to relate to one another verbally is being rapidly depleted.
In one of my classes this week, I told my students of an incidental–but maybe important– change I’ve witnessed as a teacher. I used to walk into a room to find students talking and laughing, and I’d have to quiet them down so I could start. Now when I walk into a classroom, it’s almost dead quiet. Every student is on a cellphone. They’re not interacting with each other.
So is social media causing the slow death of personal interaction? There is much evidence to the contrary. My students pointed to dating sites, where connections are made that would never have been made otherwise. We noted the dozens of “meet-up” sites where like-minded people arrange to meet in groups to discuss their mutual interests. Store traffic, event attendance, political action, and even revolutions are being driven through social media sites.
The premature predictions of the death of personal contact was illustrated at a September gathering of the Public Relations Professionals of Long Island (PRPLI) when the group met with members of the media. Editors and reporters told us that they still prefer PR people to make their pitches on the phone or in person, and not through tweeting. And while this is changing in some PR-to-media relationships, I believe that face-to-face communication is enhanced by social media and not being killed off by it. Your thoughts?