According to a recent Nielsen study, in the last year, people spent 73 percent more time on social-network sites. In February, such usage exceeded email for the first time. Did personal conversation just become passé? Is staring into someone's eyes as you either a) try to seduce them, or b) visually telegraph your wish for their immediate demise, old-school?
Marc Smith, chief social scientist for Telligent Systems and an expert in how relationships function in cyberspace, doesn't think so. He admits that while some dialogue is "less rich than face-to-face, it's hard to argue that a Shakespearean love sonnet, because it is written on paper, is less intimate."
True, but the Bard's meanings are clear. By contrast, email snafus are all too frequent. Humor can be misread as sarcasm, while a one-line response is construed as anger. And forget about emoticons; like the mother of a toddler, I'm tempted to type: Use your words.
Communication snafus happen face-to-face, too, Smith counters. The social media king says we've always depended on technology, and like any tool, it can be "misused or abused. Written communication is often more precise and archival, allowing for less confusion rather than more. Too much or too little can be a problem," he adds. "It is how these media are used that matters." Used appropriately, he believes it maintains relationships and coordinates collective action.
It's official: It's ok to let your fingers do the talking. But should your electronic friendships lead to an actual meeting, look sharp and turn on the charm.