Shipp Essay 2

We've Lost That Lovin' Feeling

A Whole New Way to Do Business

Ask any adolescent or young adult of their opinion regarding the Internet’s effect on communication, and nearly all will agree that it is exponentially expanding electronic highway that forges new methods of communication capable of connecting people across the globe. E-mail, Facebook, and Twitter among other Web 2.0 sites are changing the way people interact and communicate, benefiting not only individual networking but also national and international businesses. Emerging websites such as LinkedIn.com, a social networking site aimed strictly at developing corporate and financial connections, are the evolutionary offspring of original Web 2.0 technology. These newborn recruiting outlets have maximized the opportunities for recent graduates to find jobs, and for employers to perform detailed research on potential employees before selecting a candidate who is best qualified for the position.

It's Nothing Personal

Web 2.0 technology is developing at a phenomenal rate, so quickly that web users are being sucked into the whirlwind of new social networks that seem to appear everyday. Are people subscribing to these sites for fear of falling “out of the technological loop?” Perhaps they believe that these sites, no matter how many or how similar to one another each may be, actually do facilitate effective "personal" communication. This assumption is false. Although Web 2.0 technology can provide assistance in connecting with distant acquaintances and may occasionally help graduates find jobs, the rapid expansion of such sites is poisoning traditional, more personal methods of communication.

Defining Personal Communication

Before making an assumption of value regarding personal communication, understand that this essay defines personal communication as direct contact between two people, specifically physical face-to-face interaction. Subcategories of personal communication exist as well. Telephone calls, for example, also fall under the personal spectrum, as most are conducted between two people, with volume, speech clarity, and tone of voice exposing the emotions of each conversation participant. Almost every form of textual communication is impersonal, however, many older generations would argue that a handwritten letter is of the utmost personal forms of communication regarding sincerity and memory retention. Basically, any communication facilitated through electronic texts, such as email, social networking sites like Facebook, and text messages by cellular phones, do not qualify as personal communication as defined by this essay. Personal communication is not based on retention rates of information, made endless by Web 2.0 technology.

By these definitions, this essay asserts that Web 2.0 technology appears to offer no assistance towards the preservation of personal communication. But why should it? Some argue that Web 2.0 doesn’t aim to preserve personal communication, but rather to preserve general communication between humans who lack the time or means of personally contacting lost acquaintances. Web 2.0, specifically Facebook, serves the public as a forum for discussion and the facilitation of individual opinion, opinions drowning in an endless online ocean of other opinions. Web 2.0 preserves general communication, so why is personal communication important in today’s society?

Farming Isn't Just For Facebook

Consider this analogy, as both agriculture and communication are two characteristics that separate humans from animals. On the traditional communication farm, personal human contact is the crop that keeps the farm alive, the farmer’s family healthy, and the livestock well fed. Growing the crops takes ample time, but the results are essential to the farm’s survival. Unfortunately, in this season of endless user-generated rainstorms, the weeds of Web 2.0 are sprouting too quickly to be picked. Soon, the crops that one time sustained the communication farm will die, and people will be forced to live off of processed communication produce. Sure, processed produce can sustain life, but it is not nearly as healthy as fresh products harvested straight from the field. Likewise, humans may choose electronic communication for its offered ease and speed of interaction, yet without personal, face-to-face contact, sustaining a healthy relationship becomes increasingly more difficult. Technology, specifically Web 2.0, has paved roadways for mass communication. One should question this new, irresistibly attractive form of networking and ask if embracing such methods is worth sacrificing personal connections between people.

What We Are Losing

The disappearance of personal communication breeds the death of emotion through speech (inspiration, honesty, etc.), the inability to accurately identify the needs of other people through physical, verbal conversation, and most importantly the disintegration of human memory.

For the first example regarding the death of serious emotion, imagine a person suffering from severe depression and contemplating suicide. In the past, if this person needed help to save them, they would likely make a telephone call to a family member or close friend, or commit the deed in quiet solitude (worst case scenario). Should a phone call be made, the quality of their struggling voice paired with their words would be clearly evident through audible speech, and the recipient of the call would know immediately to summon help before a tragedy occurs.

Today, Facebook has become a common means for suicide announcements via status updates, announcements that are rarely taken seriously due to the multi-millions of status updates posted each day. If this seems farfetched, the murder-suicide of Stephen Garcia and his son should help reveal this gruesome reality. Garcia posted a suicide note on Facebook just hours before killing his son and himself.

Or perhaps the case of Lita Broadhurst may help suggest how Facebook has murdered emotional communication. Broadhurst leapt from a four-story building after posting her final goodbye on Facebook, a note that read, "I am not easily beaten, but this time I can see no way out of the black hole: too often have I had to beg for help from those who love me. I am alone this time and no longer able to find the way out. I have no more than despair and fatigue within me now." This note was intended as a private goodbye to her teenage children, and was instead viewed by millions, robbing her children of any closure in the wake of their mother’s death.

In a world absent Facebook and other personal profile websites, these deaths may have been prevented, or at least the details kept private out of respect for the victim’s family. A cry for help is much louder when physically spoken.

Face-to-face communication has become a legitimate fear among the younger generation, allowing for true feelings to be exposed through spontaneous speech, a form of communication that forces authenticity and eliminates scripted and polished statements that may mislead recipients, both intentionally and unintentionally. To succeed in a corporate world, being confident in one’s ability to influence others through spoken words and body language is a necessity. As Facebook expands to include a younger audience, such as children between the ages of ten through 15, social skills traditionally learned at a young age are forgotten. Even functioning in a relaxed social setting becomes a task rather than a preferred method of meeting other people. “Friends” are made at the click of a mouse button (literally). Instead of sincerely congratulating someone on a recent accomplishment, users simply respond with this vague statement: “John Doe likes this.” It appears to be a matter of time before Facebook becomes a means of marriage proposals over their chat feature, with the number of exclamation points in the response serving as a measure of one’s love for another.

Today’s youth is not the only generation suffering from an inability to convey one’s personality and needs through speech; adults are also utilizing websites to find romance and friendship. Eharmony.com, consisting of over five million members, uses profile characteristics to match compatible partners. Meeting others online, a favored method gaining popularity each day, has a dark side. Profiles may be falsified by criminals, who then encourage unsuspecting users to meet them, resulting in sex crimes and even death. Physical interaction in a public setting, the traditional way of meeting others, can prevent these surprise attacks.

The accuracy flaws do not apply only to mutual interaction sites like Facebook, Twitter and Eharmony. Many Internet users utilize WebMD.com, a health information website, to diagnose their own ailments without physical doctoral advice. The ease of visiting a website overrides the safety of professional treatment. As more users access this site’s services and confidence rises, it appears a matter of time before a serious condition goes misdiagnosed and leads to death.

On a larger scale that encompasses all Web 2.0 technology users, perhaps the most detrimental effect of these websites is the inability of the preservation of human memory and consequently the inability to delete online memory. Engaging in a serious conversation (in person) requires each participant to listen intently, as shared information may be necessary to recall in the future. For example, if two people meet for the first time in a social setting, they must each remember each others' names along with other facts important to a developing relationship. The brain is forced to think, lubricating each person’s gears of intelligence and memory. Like any organ, the brain must be used frequently to function properly. Facebook eliminates the need to remember anything about anyone, as most information including pictures, addresses, hobbies, interests, etc. is displayed for the world to see. Without the need for human memory, the capacity to recall these factors about a person is greatly reduced.

This problem is especially applicable to young adults and college students, who frequently remove their Facebook accounts for fear of potential employers learning of their corporately inappropriate habits. Unable to remember details regarding personality qualities and contact information, current users simply forget that their former “friend” even existed, for all they really knew about the person was learned through their posted profile prior to deletion. The relationships of those who met in person and physically interact through face-to-face communication are the only connections remaining firmly intact. It’s almost as though Facebook is simply a tool to develop false self-esteem through paper-thin friendships.

Memory storage is lost without personal communication, yet this problem contradictorily matched by Web 2.0 communication's retention of information. During face-to-face interaction, people occasionally say something they don’t mean to profess, an inevitable side effect of spontaneous conversation. When this occurs, a simple apology usually erases a minor mistake from each participants’ memory, allowing the conversation to continue. Again, Facebook is a prime example of how completely erasing a mistake is impossible on the Internet. According to Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, Facebook receives 10 million web requests from around the world every second. With so many requests, accidents or regrettable posts happen frequently. The “delete” button appears to make these mistakes disappear, but in all actuality they are still saved and visible on multiple separate computers and databases. NOTHING GOES AWAY FOREVER IN A DIGITAL WORLD. This includes credit card numbers, social security numbers, and other valuable personal information. This information would have never been revealed to those unintended through face-to-face communication. Psychological memory retention is a blessing, but technological memory is simply a closet, filling with endless amounts of skeletons each day.

Anonymity

The ability to remain anonymous births another issue rarely applicable to personal communication, especially in face-to-face situations. Here's a localized example: The Collegiate Times at Virginia Tech has struggled to decide whether to continue to allow users to post comments on their website anonymously. Following the April 16th tragedy, hate-filled comments began appearing on the website’s front page without any attribution. The newspaper with the largest student readership was causing more harm than good, because those wishing to inflict trauma knew they could reach a large, vulnerable audience without reprimand. Web 2.0 offers speed as a virtue, though in this case instant publication yields emotional devastation. Had traditional methods of communication through the media been the only means of access for these cowardly authors, none of these unnecessary posts would have surfaced. Even if the publishers received them anonymously, editor discretion would disallow public access to such comments.

Conclusion

No matter which side of this argument prevails, the winning means of communication will never fully extinguish the defeated. Neither form of communication is necessarily “better,” as each requires a sacrifice of benefits offered by the other. Personal communication, including face-to-face, telephone, and handwritten letters takes more time and effort than Web 2.0 methods. However, Web 2.0 methods rob communication of emotion, tone, and authenticity while instead providing speed of delivery. To avoid these sacrifices, society must accept a stalemate of the two. Unfortunately, the decision of when to communicate personally as opposed to informally is decided by human discretion, discretion that frequently yields bad decisions in light of the upcoming generations’ dependence on Web 2.0. In the words of Viktor Mayer-Schonberger, “the internet once was a tool to access information, now it is a tool to share information” (Schonberger 85). With the ability of anybody who owns a computer to share information, how can one decipher fiction from reality? Honesty, motivation, effort, and intelligence, all characteristics necessary to succeeding in today’s competitive environment, are being defeated by laziness and ease of access. It appears that Web 2.0 has finally solved an old argument: in the war between quality and quantity, quantity is winning this battle.

Sources

The Associated Press. "Murder-Suicide Note Posted on Facebook: Could Father, Son Deaths Have Been Stopped? - Crimesider - CBS News." Breaking News Headlines: Business, Entertainment & World News - CBS News. 4 Feb. 2010. Web. 10 May 2010. <http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-6170670-504083.html>.

Colker, David. "Facebook Fights Back, Disallows the Suicide Machine | Technology | Los Angeles Times." Top of the Ticket | Is Sen. Orrin Hatch the next Utah Republican in Trouble—with Republicans? | Los Angeles Times. 4 Jan. 2010. Web. 9 May 2010. <http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2010/01/facebook-fights-back-disallows-the-suicide-machine.html>.

Collier, James, and attending students. "Information and Knowledge Management Class." Virginia Tech, Shanks, Blacksburg. Spring Semester 2010. Lectures.

Gendar, Alison and Tracy Connor. "Facebook Status Update Becomes Suicide Note for Aspiring Brooklyn Model, Actor Paul Zolezzi." New York News, Traffic, Sports, Weather, Photos, Entertainment, and Gossip - NY Daily News. 21 Feb. 2009. Web. 10 May 2010. <http://www.nydailynews.com/news/2009/02/20/2009-02-20_facebook_status_update_becomes_suicide_n.html>.

Govan, Fiona. "Woman Posted 'suicide Note' on Facebook Then Jumped to Her Death - Telegraph." Telegraph.co.uk: News, Business, Sport, the Daily Telegraph Newspaper, Sunday Telegraph - Telegraph. 10 Feb. 2010. Web. 10 May 2010. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain
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Mayer-Schönberger, Viktor. Delete: the Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2009. Print.

*Sources from which information was not directly derived are not listed.

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