Internet disintermediation angst … or we discover that relationships require face-time

Internet disintermediation angst … or we discover that relationships require face-time

According to, PlusNet (a UK ISP) has released a study concluding what many have said for years:

Nearly a third of people say their relationships have suffered because their use of digital technology means they ‘talk less’.

Among other “ground-breaking” conclusions:

  • 90% said email, text, and IMs make communication less personal;
  • 41% said they’d rather get a phone call;
  • 40% say email, text, and IM are less confrontational;
  • 27% use email, text, and IM to flirt;
  • 22% use email, text, and IM to apologize for missed birthdays;
  • 19% use email, text, and IM to call in sick to work.

I mentioned some of my thoughts on this in my interview with Garrick the other day. The Internet “mediates” relationships, like postal mail does, or sending messages to your spouse via the kids. But the almost “real-time” immediacy of the Net conceals it’s mediating nature. On the negative side, there just isn’t as much bandwidth to electronic communication as there is in face-to-face dialog. The Net truncates the full-on nonverbal, sweaty, fidgety, blushing language we unconsciously rely on in all our relationships. Take this away and all that’s left is what can be consciously and eloquently self-disclosed. Let’s face it, there are very few Shakespeares and Wordsworths among us today. Our verbal self-disclosure is limited by the effectiveness of our introspection and articulation. We need the stuttering, fumbling tooth-and-claw of face-to-face interaction to partake in true intimacy. Relationships require hands, eyes, and lips.

On the other hand, the positive side, the sense of invulnerability Net technologies provide can allow some enemies, friends, lovers, and partners to say via text what they are too bashful, fearful, or inarticulate to say in person. And sometimes that can be a good and healthy thing.

The key is whether the technology is used as a tool with conscious intentionality, or whether the tool becomes the master. Are you driving the computer, or is it driving you?

I’ve seen people blossom after discovering Net dialog. I’ve seen some become raging tyrants. It’s not the technology: it’s the mindless use and abuse of a powerful tool in unwitting hands.

(The PlusNet survey polled 3,250 people across the UK from October 3–15, 2005)

[tags]PlusNet, survey, study, Internet, community, relationships, BlogRodent, UK[/tags]

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