People often shake their heads at a common scene today; families in a restaurant, all tapping away at their phones, rarely looking up while loved ones sit a mere 2 feet away. Oh, the demise of the Family they cry! These of course are just snapshots in time and in no way reflect anti-social behavior, or should mark the downfall of the family unit. On the contrary, the family is exhibiting Supersocial behaviors by interacting with physical and virtual participants synchronous and asynchronously… simultaneously.
Recently a co-worker in IT pinged me on our internal IM system. He was inquiring about some images we might have to support an interface he wanted to redesign. I told him who to ask but encouraged him to post the request in our ESN and tag the person in Marketing. This way more than he could benefit from the exchange. He was hesitant and jokingly shared that the system he was developing was one that would get him hated throughout the organization. He further explained that it was a password reset process to take place every 3 months and that he was to roll it out. OK, I thought, maybe not hated but certainly annoyed. We then preceded to exchanged funny, sarcastic comparisons; 5th horseman of the apocalypse, blame it on “Obama care” and on and on it went. I’m confident that in our 3 minute exchange we both chuckled quite a bit. In the end he got what he needed, a few new thoughts and all with a smile.
Later that day we passed in the hallway, eye contact and a head nod hello and on our way. Nothing more, no smirk or recall of our earlier humorous exchanges. It was over, it was actually over shortly after the last sarcastic quip. Some might say that is a problem, that we are perpetuating some type of anti-social behaviors and losing our ability to converse live. I pondered this experience for a bit and as I walked from his office to mine I counted that it was 28 steps away from my office. He could have been 2800 miles away as many of my exchanges; humorous or informative are. I thought that if communication is used to transfer ideas and information then this type of communication, the one we experienced together is the heart of social. It had cognitive fodder but also emotional sentiment. Between us, in that flurry of humorous exchanges, we felt the same emotions of happiness, connection, and a kindred spirit as if we had been seated together. It was just as real as being there.
Social tools can do much more than connect us to others as sources of knowledge, they can (if we accept it) extend the entirety of our humanity.