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Social Media in the 21st Century: How Communication and Convenience Converge

Thousands of years of evolutionary history and I happened to be born right before the prevalence of the internet. I experienced having to knock on a friend’s door to see if they were free to go outside, playing road hockey games until mom yelled,“Dinner’s ready!” and even had to approach girls in *gasp* real life to ask for their number.

In the last twenty years, a lot has changed – and I lived through the transition first-hand as a 29 year-old millenial.

The internet, and more specifically social media, has made communication much more convenient in many areas of life – planning social events, dating and business are some of the major ones.

But when does the cost of convenience outweigh the gains? When does technology and automation cut out so much human interaction that we actually take a step back in terms of quality communication?

Here’s what we can do to stay ahead of it:

Social events/planning

We now have access to so many other people that it’s easy to constantly be evaluating which is the “best” option. I remember the good ol’ days, which for me was the early 2000’s. This was before every teenager had a cellphone, four social media accounts and a busy schedule. Back then you made plans in one of two ways.

Option 1: You got off the couch, walked over to your friend’s house, knocked on the door, had a pleasant conversation with Mr./Mrs. X, and asked if Joey was around and wanted to hangout.

Option 2: You called your friend’s house phone, asked Mr./Mrs. X politely if you could speak to Joey, then made plans to meet at a particular time and place. If it was a group thing, you’d decide who each of you would call to get everyone there.

Then magic happened – everyone who said they wanted to come, would show up!

There was no re-arranging plans—it wasn’t efficient. In a way, it forced people to keep their word and not back out. Everyone showed up to have a jolly old time.

This was great for two reasons. First, the methodology used to organize a get-together instilled a go-getter attitude in the planner—if you wanted to make a plan you had to take charge. Second, when people made plans, they generally stuck to them because rearranging or finding other plans wasn’t easy.

Enter the 21st century…

Making plans feels harder now, despite how “convenient” communicating is through social media. Sure, you can message 500 people with the click of a button nowadays, but the process is more complicated than it needs to be.

It’s easy to start a group chat, but managing seven schedules at once is disastrous. I preferred when two people picked an activity, a time and a place, then told other people, and those who wanted to come, came.

With improved communication tools, the net effect is people are “busier” and have more options. Consequently, it’s harder to get people to commit to and attend a social gathering.

That… or nobody likes me.

Dating

I remember my high school and university days when if you didn’t ask a girl for her number, or get setup through a friend, you weren’t going on a date that week.

Simple as that.

And for guys, it was good for two reasons. First, it instilled the go-getter attitude similar to the benefit mentioned in point #1 – it meant you had to get off your ass, work up the confidence and introduce yourself. You’d go say “hi” to that girl, hold a conversation and ask for her number. And to be honest, it was more thrilling to do that than seeing “You’ve matched” on a dating app.

Second, an introduction was a great way for both parties to vet the other person before an “official” first date. You got to see the person in real life, observe their verbal and physical communication, and decide if it was a good idea to even go on a date.

Dating apps, on the other hand, make it too easy to chat with girls and set up first dates, meaning more people are going on more dates than ever before. The problem is the masculinity that used to define us as men is at an all-time low (Brad writes about the decline of masculinity in his post here).

Dating apps aren’t terrible – they’re convenient for the career-focused professional who may not have time (or interest) to go to bars or social gatherings as often. But people shouldn’t go on more first dates simply because it’s convenient, they should go on more first dates because they have some semblance of a connection with another person.

Just like the commitment issue mentioned above, dating apps are holding us back in terms of creating meaningful connections for the purposes of dating.

Business

Technology was everywhere by the time I graduated university and started my own business, and every aspect of business is as convenient and cheap as ever. For example, billing, incorporating, marketing, networking and communication (email, Skype, etc.). I wasn’t operating a business pre-social media, but I can’t imagine trying to start and grow a business before the Internet, because it must’ve taken much more time, effort and money. For that, again I consider myself very lucky.

But for similar reasons to #1 and #2 above, technology may hurt us. For example, before email and social media, you relied on cold calling, going door-to-door, plugging into your network and attending events in-person to get your business started.

Coincidentally, those are still powerful ways to grow your business, especially since fewer people are willing to do them. Instead, we rely on tools like social media, automated messaging, cold emailing and more, as crutches that limit the personal side of business – and maybe our revenues as a result.

What Should We Do About It?

Social media and the convenience it produces isn’t all bad, and don’t get me wrong – it isn’t going anywhere either. What we have to do is balance the amount of time we want to save with the quality of communication we are willing to sacrifice.

In an effort to strike that right balance, I have made a conscious effort to do two things:

1. Minimize relying on social media to what’s necessary, not just convenient.

For example, yes it’s nice to message 13 people at once to try and make plans, but realistically, that just isn’t efficient for planning purposes. Instead, create a calendar invite or poll and share it with everyone so you can get to a plan asap. Or heck, do it old school and make plans with one person and invite the rest to join if they’re interested.

Yes dating apps are convenient, but don’t stop conversing with the opposite sex in real life because you have apps to fall back on. And yes, it’s “easier” to send a mass email to 143 previous clients, but how would they react if you gave them a phone call or showed up in their office instead (Covid has made this a little harder… but you get my point)?

2. Don’t forget the value of the human touch.

Sure, technology may make everything easier and robots may take over the world within a few decades (gulp), but you can’t replace the human touch, especially with regards to communication. You can have a skype call, but there’s no replacement for conversing with a friend’s parent face-to-face. Or locking eyes with that cute girl across the room and going up to introduce yourself. Or shaking hands with a new colleague at a networking event.

I don’t quote Cameron Diaz often, but she said it well:

“Convenience is not an acceptable foundational value for society. It’s a disease.”

Social media will continue to make our lives more convenient, but let’s not forget the quality of communication that makes us, as humans, who we really are.

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