COUNTERPOINT: Is Social Media Better than Face-to-Face Interaction?

This post is part of a series of point/counterpoint arguments proposed by different members of the Pixels & Pills staff. Were strong believers that healthy arguments can yield the best solutions, and we hope that you enjoy our series. Feel free to add your own arguments in the comments section below!

By Russ Ward (@russcward)

This is going to be a shocking statement for me to put on a blog that has, for the last year and a half, crusaded tirelessly and award-winningly-effectively (whatever, they added “lol” to the Oxford English Dictionary) to help the pharma industry understand the importance of considering social media in its interactions with physicians, patients, the public, and each other.

But here goes:

Social media still isnt better than face-to-face.

We are all animals, human animals. We require each others presence to be healthy, to be alive. To really communicate, we need to see each other, touch a hand, watch an expression, hear a voice, exchange glances. Our technological advances in the last decade have leapfrogged past that, but all of the Tweeted emoticons, all of the Skype screens, all of the Facebook pictures in the world still cant take the place of those basic needs.

Proponents say that its quicker, its easier, that social media makes you more productive because you can multitask politely. Well, yes. But giving you the technical ability still doesnt give you the mental capability. Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell, MD calls multitasking a “mythical activity: Its unquestionably attempted all the time – but is it ever really achieved?

You find me a person who wouldnt feel as if they were paid more attention to after a face-to-face conversation with no other distractions, rather than after a Tweet conversation held in the midst of a meeting or a conference call, or while driving or grocery shopping. And find the person who would feel better about your relationship when you explained that you wanted to make your interactions quicker and easier, rather than more focused or meaningful.

The beauty of social media, proponents say, is that it can help you stay more connected to your current network and improve your connection to your extended network. Id agree with that (see, I do belong on this blog!) but Id argue that that statement implies that its additive, not a substitution. That works if youre using social media along with all the face-to-face interaction you had before – not if you swap out face-to-face interactions entirely and try to just use social media to keep those relationships going.

Im not a Luddite, obviously, and I dont think we should shy away from innovation because its not What We Were Used To. But just because convenient alternatives exist doesnt mean that theyre meant to replace the originals. We still teach our kids how to tie their sneakers even though they have ones with Velcro straps. We still bake them cookies even though we can also buy slice-and-bake freezer dough. And we still get something out of naturally looking someone in the eye and getting to know them in three-dimensional, tactile, physical space, that we cant quite get any other way.

Social media has huge potential advantages for business, but the root of business is still personal interactions, and we cant forget that.



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