Social media: a useful alternative to fleshy fuzziness

May 22, 2012

This piece in the FT at the weekend caught my eye. It’s very long, and concerned primarily with the place of social media in relationships which, in America anyhow (the author is the FT’s San Francisco correspondent) seems to be just plain weird: in my household there are strict and entirely reasonable rules barring tweeting at the weekend, whereas some couples in the US have introduced live streaming into marriage proposals. As we wannabe yanks say: go figure.

The passage that caught my scrolling eye, however, is copied below. I think it’s absolutely correct that digital interaction strips away meaning, and makes things (usually) less fuzzy and awkward.

But most of the time that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t be remotely surprised to discover that many of the people I thoroughly enjoy interacting with remotely are, well, a bit of a let-down in the flesh. And I’m equally certain that the feeling would be mutual, more times than not.

The benchmark for a relationship featuring any kind of physical interaction is simply higher. But that’s ok, because this is a classic case of horses for courses: invest time in eyeballing those closest to you, and have a thoroughly good time retweeting and replying to everyone else.

On another level, communicating over electronic channels strips the emotional context from conversations. Some people, young and old, are choosing to communicate with each other through texting and social networks specifically to avoid the ambiguity and awkwardness of telephone and in-person conversations. But it is through those ambiguous, awkward moments that people truly get to know one another. It is by interpreting facial expressions, tones of voice, and half-finished sentences that we figure each other out, and become sympathetic to others’ points of view.


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