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« Education: Understanding the crisis in the humanities in the UK | Main | Executive pay: what’s wrong with this picture? »

January 11, 2011


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I absolutely agree with you. Social media is a tool, which we can use to have more conversations and connect with more people than it was possible before. Social media is a tool to share stories and with stories we can share emotions too. Because social media isn't active doer, it's depend on us users, what kind of connections we create. I have met face-to-face many people, with whom I have connected first in Twitter and my wold and life is truly richer.

Lotta Adelstål

Couldn't agree more. People around the world gather in virtual communities to exchange ideas, knowledge and worries to find new ways of dealing with issues. It makes sense to share whatever wisdom and insight we have with others using whatever way this sharing is done. Not using the resources with have, including knowledge, is stupidity.It has indeed inriched both my private and professional lives.

Martin Price

'Totally trivial purposes' and 'real conversations' can I suggest, usefully be considered seperately. It is true that so-called 'social media' offer, in many ways, a far greater range of opportunity for depth and propinquity of discussion - for those inclined to use them in this way. I trust that this conversation is an example.

But consider other modes of communication in society and in every-day exchange and their efficacy. Moss Kanter is right to be concerned and I am sure that your associates at the conference are not alone in observing that levels of conversational competence are lowering in every-day engagement, discussion and argument.
I fail to be convinced, by the way, by a declaration of 'utter nonsense'in this conversation and maybe we would be more able to resolve the argument face-to-face!


I think what is important of course is 'how' we relate to the technology and social media - I know many people who are face to face everyday, at work, with their families and friends and are simply not relating or in relationship with themselves and others.
A good article is this one: Social Media in 2011: Six Choices You Need to Make - Alexandra Samuel - Harvard Business Review I like here focus because she is talking about the relationship and how we relate new social media and technology.

Brian Guest

I agree there are several positives from on-line and social networking communication. It is a radical change.
Surely though there are challenges as well. It seems to me the best conversation on the change would not be polarised between good and bad, but also probe more deeply on both the positive aspects and the new challenges arising from the shift. These are likely to be complex. There can be differences depending on different individual exposures to different communication formats, differences across personality types and cultures. There are transitional issues too across generations.

Martin Price

I suggest that a clear distinction be made in this conversation between the arenas of 'totally trivial purposes' and what might be termed 'rich conversation'. Social media offer fabulous and previously un-imagined scope for richness between people within massive audiences. But Moss Kanter has I suggest a quite different concern and one that is shared with some of your colleagues at the conference. The competence for 'talking face-to-face' has in Britain at least diminished in recent years. We are not alone I fear and I do not restrict attribution for this to computers and 'social media'. The fall of social networking and the diminution of communities in work and other settings is more profound and is greater as a phenomenon.

I don't, by the way, get your argument of 'utter nonesense'. It is not persuasive; as it may be if our conversation was face-to-face. The efficacy of different media are more profoundly different I suggest than many people perceive them to be.

John Poparad

In a conversation, only a small % of the meaning is in the words, the rest is in all the other aspects of presence. Reguardless of the use of icons, etc, social media carries only a small % of the intended meaning. In addition, without the instant feedback of the elements of presence, there's no way of knowing how the person responded to your words. The screen takes out too much of the human presence and with it the richness of face to face conversation.
We used a rule of thumb at work, if after three exchanges, the issue is still unresolved, get up and go see the person face-to-face.

Martin Price

John Poparad I think nicely compares:
A conversation through which meaning and understanding can be shared and ...
An information exchange of words; the only currency of social media.

We must avoid a confusion of these two very different experiences.

Louise Altman

A fascinating post - rich with thought provoking detail! I think the conversation on social media is a lot like many others we have - based on dualistic thinking - is it good or is it bad?
Highlighting Hagel's point "The supposed age of real conversations never really existed except in isolated pockets of society that emerged for brief moments," underscores an example of a collective assumption that frames the conversation we are having about the meaning of social media - that is that we have lost something we really haven't had!
In our work, we find that so many people have no idea about how to have a "real" conversation. Real conversations are based on confidence, trust and empathy.
This is such an important discussion - one that I hope you will expand in the future.


Steve, another great post. I was chatting with a friend who was lamenting that his 8th grade son is "going out" with a girl but all they do is text. "How will he know what a relationship is? We used to talk on the phone!" So first I said that at that age, texting was "safer" (well depends I guess these days). Then, I asked him what kids would say on the phone when they talked for hours...not that different from what they text! Duh! As we kept talking about it, turned out it wasn't that different after all! And of course, neither type (text or voice) was deep.


Steve Denning

Hi all,

It seems my post "Are social media killing conversation?" has sparked, guess what? A conversation. Who would have thought?

As Martin says, "so-called 'social media' offer, in many ways, a far greater range of opportunity for depth and propinquity of discussion - for those inclined to use them in this way. I trust that this conversation is an example."

Most of us commenting here have never met in person. But an interchange has developed between us, which I find at least as interesting as most of the conversations I encounter at, say, conferences.

I agree with John that in a face to face conversation only a percentage of the meaning is in the words. And in an online conversation, we are missing those cues. But we also have other cues that are missing in face to face conversations: the careful and thoughtful preparation of text, and the phraseology, that tell me that this is a person and a viewpoint that I am interested in hearing, even if I can't see that person's facial expressions or gestures.

As to whether there was a time when face to face conversations were deeper and richer, I can't really say. Books on conversation say that the coffee houses in London in the 18th Century were examples of that. But the books don't offer any examples of those allegedly wondrous conversations and so I guess we will never know for sure.

In my own experience, great conversations have always been a rare occurrence. So I am grateful to the social media for greatly expanding the opportunities.


Thomas McDonagh

To be able to position yourself
whereby one is having interesting,
productive,provocative and stimulating conversation on a daily basis is an indication of a person who is living a more fulfilled life.

Helen Mitchell

Great conversation and thanks to Steve for the blog post that inspired it.

The collective social media are yet another 'disruptive innovation' that changes the power balance. Anyone can have a voice through connecting and participating, geography is not a barrier. It's really gained so much traction in business and for professionals, particularly in the last year over here (I am writing from Australia). All the various social media tools are just that - tools. It's up to us how we use them. They can be used for both "good" and "bad" - we choose the behaviors we express and the quality of connections that we desire. Human beings can be both very good at finding things to do, and finding things to waste time on. For me, it's about accountability, choices and how we educate others in using any communication approach for the shared good: face-to-face and online.

And yes, I love how access to like-minded people is so fast and broad these days! :-)


Steve, I am inclined to agree with Hagel that social media opens up conversations and relationships with people one would otherwise never have encountered - much the same as letter-writing allowed Pascal and Leibniz to build on each other's ideas.

However, I do not think this matter can be resolved with a-priori arguments and hand-picked examples, but could be decided with research about what is typical.
We need some facts in the shape of statistical evidence that on balance, social media either reduces some crucial values of human interaction, or increases them.

I am quite sure that one can find examples to satisfy either and each of the claims - people whose lives were enhanced by social media, and those who were left bereft in some critical way by it.
The point though isn't whether one can find an example or two either way, but where the great preponderance of cases will lie.

That's what I want to see. :)

davide de palma

absolutely agree with you

Steve Denning

Dear MLoxton,

I agree that we should be keeping an eye on where "the great preponderance of cases will lie".

However I am not sure that this will be decisive.

Thus you could argue that fifty years after the invention of the printing press, scientific studies showed that in "the great preponderance of cases", most people's lives were unaffected: they couldn't read. Therefore one might conclude the printing press was largely irrelevant as an invention. It had made little difference in most people's lives. This would have been a travesty on the impact of printing.

I also see some problems in doing scientific studies of the quality of conversations in the past. Were the conversations in coffee houses in 18th century London as brilliant as some writers surmise? I don't think we will ever know. There seems to be quite a bit of "Garden of Eden" thinking, where everything in the past was better. Not sure that assumption is valid.


female obgyn

A lot were getting hypocrites stating negative and false statement. While they are secretly involved with it.

Ieshy S

Helpful on my end. I dont know why other find it annoying.

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