For some years, I had six phone lines on each of two instruments and a phone at one ear or the other – sometimes both – many hours a day. I also had a third instrument with my private line to be sure I could call out no matter what and certain key people could always reach me.
Now I’m so rarely on the phone that I often don’t even bother to check for voice mail messages. It’s easy to manage with merely one land line phone and a cell phone! Lots of people find all they need is the cell phone.
What happened? We abandoned synchronous communication and gained control of our time. We send and receive text and email messages instead of calling. We also went from long-form to bite-sized messages and, at the same time, to more frequent brief interactions.
Not long after the new communication formats started, social media entered my life – Facebook about 2002, Linked In a few years later and Twitter after that. I have what one friend calls “a robust presence” on all three but spend little time on Facebook, not much more on Twitter and probably the most on Linked In. On Facebook, it’s fun to interact periodically with distant friends at times we’d typically have no communication. On Twitter, it’s helpful to discover and share insights. Linked In has become an invaluable reference tool, only rarely used to communicate, let alone interact, but the only way to reach some people at times. So all three add value for me in different ways. They supplement live interaction uniquely.
Does any of this replace live interaction? No way! My calendar is full - and it's only thanks to email and text messages that I can keep it straight!
Sherry Turkle, social scientist, author and MIT professor, argues that our increasing use of email, text messaging and social media has a negative impact on the social fabric and demonstrates evidence of diminished expectations of our relationships with other people and of a personal power-grab for control of interactions. Bah, humbug!
Any media can of course be used for positive or negative reasons and with varying results. But, in my experience, contrary to Dr. Turkle’s perception, the new ones enrich the social fabric with an infinite number of contact points that have never existed before, they provide the convenience of communication on demand – free of interaction – and they allow each of us to manage our time more productively without losing touch.