Facebook, Textbook and Screens: A Paradox in Communication

So much has been written and said about Facebook, but we seem to have overlooked something rather significant about the popular social networking site: Facebook is really “Textbook” because it primarily connects people text-to-text. Granted, most social networking applications (sites) intend to and often do facilitate or enhance in-person communication. We’re all delighted when we hear the anecdotes about people who reconnect with estranged parents, siblings, and friends because of social networking. Great. But, the fact remains that nearly all of the communication is really just short bursts of text typed to and then read on a screen.

Screen. This is the word that really caught my attention while reflecting on the modern revolution in communication. There can be no argument that the primary technical interface for all of our modern communication is a screen. Screens abound, and they are multiplying in phones, e-readers, gaming, and more. Surely, these screens have vastly increased the connections between people. I’m in touch with hundreds of friends, and thousands of strangers through screens. Yet—a screen is a paradox. While it does make these connections possible, it also limits their quality. This should be no surprise: the word screen (prior to the technical revolution) was used to refer to a barrier. The definition of a screen is: “something that shelters, protects, or hides” (Merriam-Webster).

My primary profession is driving new business development through strategic relationships with different companies. What I know is that one of the most important aspects of my success in those efforts is that I emphasize actual in-person, face-to-face communication. While I believe remote video conferencing can be very useful in many contexts, there is no substituting the unique power of direct in-person discussions. It is easier to build trust, resolve differences, and creatively collaborate when people are sitting around the same table. There are subtle clues and signals that we each offer up, often unintentionally, that allow us all to adjust our tone, approach, and elocution to greatest effect.

Remote conferencing technology is still in infancy, in my view. And, it will advance considerably in the next 3 years. As the whole area develops, maybe Facebook will become less “Textbook”. I welcome all these changes, and I’ll adopt them as they help me become increase efficiencies and cut some costs. At the same time, I’ll patiently endure the indignities of the TSA, delayed flights, and hotel banality, because I know that one in-person visit with the executive team of a potential business partner will allow for efficiencies and trust that a screen inherently limits.

–John R. Durant © 2011

www.twitter.com/johnrdurant

 

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About John R. Durant

Drawing on years fostering innovation in the high-tech industry, most notably at Microsoft, John is a principal researcher at Savvysherpa building new businesses.
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