I was recently asked to participate in an "unpanel" discussion about the way we communicate, and the value of the medium versus message. Questions (below) were sent to me ahead of time to help facilitate the discussion. That discussion will happen tomorrow in Durham, NC's Central Park. So I'm going to formulate some answers here:
1. What has changed our relationship with each other now that social media have quantified it, made it visible, and pushed it into the public domain? Social media creates more connections that last after the physical ones disappear. We don't have to make as much of an effort to create relationships in person, because we know the discussion and connection will be made (or be continued) online. We are able to touch more people in less time, but our relationships suffer because we are either unlearning -- or never learning -- how to scratch beneath the surface and go beyond the "what" and "how" to the "why" of the people we meet. And if we don't watch it, we will all become broadcasters instead of conversationalists.
2. What remains invisible/unquantified? Emotions are not expressed well online. Just as in email, happy/sad conversations work better in person or on the phone.
3. Does the message matter? Or the form/medium? Today, the medium dictactes the message more than ever. The more popular mediums reflect the ways we "prefer" to communicate. If you believe, like Marshall McLuhan that a lightbulb is a medium, then your surroundings dictate much of how you interact and communicate and we should focus more on the "medium" than ever to mold how we communicate. (When you think about it - planning the physical layout/decor of an office might be one of the most important business decisions a CEO can make.)
4. How do we know whether someone who is listening is actively receiving what we say? How do we know whether the person listening "gets" what we say? Because we are all mostly broadcasters online, we have more to say and share it more publically. If we focus on a theme, we are probably more likely to be heard because people will seek us out for our expertise. We are more narrow in our focus and our reach. I often realize I'm actually touching more people than I thought I was. People sometimes come out of the woodwork to comment on something I've said or done, and it makes me feel like people are observing me rather than interacting with me.
5. Do you feel more in control, or aware, of this exchange/communication (or the breakdown thereof), online? Offline? In groups? One-on-one? Written? Spoken? I see a breakdown of one-on-one communication in person. I don't see us writing well or in a way that celebrates language. I think we are overrun with buzz words.
If you have the opportunity to attend one of Orangutan Swing's Aether events, I highly recommend them. How many times have you had some deep discussion with yourself about something that might be perfect for a round table? How many times have you wasted an hour playing on Facebook when you could have been in the park sitting with a circle of friends?
One of the friends I enjoyed seeing at Aether was Karl Sakas. He is a web project manager at Hesketh in Raleigh, and is a very talented blogger. Here's his summary of our discussion. I couldn't have said it better myself, Karl.