In a digital age, it is easy to overlook the value of meeting face to face. With the array of social media channels around today it is often easy to find quite a bit of information about others online, whether it is through their LinkedIn page, Twitter account or blog. I’ll admit that whenever I am meeting someone new I take a look at these to get a sense of who they are, but often times that initial impression changes significantly after first meeting in person. This is the result of both the intentional managing of online identities and the differences in communication by medium.
Erving Goffman’s 1959 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life highlighted the manner in which we perform for each other in attempts to guide or control how others see us. This identity management is all the easier to do through online channels which allow asynchronous communication with the time to edit and rewrite our message several times if necessary.
This was well put by Richard Sennett in his 2012 book Together, where he distinguished information sharing from communication, “Information sharing is an exercise in definition and precision, whereas communication is as much about what is left unsaid as said; communication mines the realm of suggestion and connotation.” Digital media facilitates the diffusion of information, but it strips away important communication cues including inflection, facial expressions and gestures that aid in judging the sincerity of the speaker.
Being face to face not only makes it easier to interpret each other but it also often opens a space for unexpected points to emerge. The back and forth exchange can lead in unforeseen directions, building off each other. Similarly, the pauses and silences can also result in productive steps forward. We might hesitate approaching another, wondering “what would I say?” but the reality is that in the moment we often do find words to share.
This is certainly not an argument against using traditional social media to communicate, but it is important to have balance and recall the pros and cons of different communication mediums. While technology facilitates working remotely, at times it may be better to walk over and speak directly with a colleague rather than to simply write them an email.