Today, the most common tool people and businesses use for connecting with other people is the Internet. However, this increased reliance on the internet to make connections is actually causing a problem. The reality is that people are reducing the number of interactions they have with each other and increasing their interactions with a computer. This is because technology and the internet have produced too many services that make real, human interaction unnecessary.
Many would argue that the numerous online services and web applications including online-banking, social networking sites, e-commerce, email, web forms, and online customer service have led to a more connected, efficient, and advanced society. While that may be true, there is a hidden drawback. We are creating a digital barrier between people. We are making it possible to completely eliminate real-life interactions between strangers. We are making people think they are social without actually having to be social.
Social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter have helped connect millions of people. We can share photos, videos, links, stories, event invitations and more, quickly and easily. But through Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter, we receive very little emotion, one of the most defining characteristics of human beings. "Haha"s and "Lol"s are no substitute for the sound of laughter. "Liking" something on Facebook is not equal to the emotional feeling gained from a real, verbal compliment. Fifteen years ago, sharing pictures was a simultaneous experience between people where emotion and reactions were exchanged in person. With Facebook and other social networking services growing in popularity, the call for face-to-face exchanges is starting to diminish.
While the social networking example is very obvious, other online services can have the same effect. A website called Alice.com is one of many online services that will ship household items like dish soap or laundry detergent directly to your door. When hunger strikes, groceries can be delivered to your home from Safeway.com. The pattern starting to emerge is the loss of day-to-day experiences with fellow members of society. Every day events in our lives are some of the most valuable opportunities for social interactions. Whether it be shopping in a supermarket or paying a cashier for purchased goods, these simple, but real interactions are no longer necessary. And when an action is no longer necessary, it can start to be avoided.
When looking at avoiding unnecessary interactions, we can find many examples between businesses and consumers. Many companies have chosen a path of "efficiency" at the expense of personal interactions. Impersonal automated emails, online customer service/support, and automated phone menus allow businesses to avoid direct interactions with their consumers. Those methods can be highly appropriate and efficient for many businesses but when they become the sole manner of communication, we have to ask ourselves what the repercussions may be to our society as a whole.
The internet is showing no signs of slowing down so we can assume these digitized, twenty-first century interactions will continue to increase as well. With the speed with which online services are infiltrating the social, personal, and commercial facets of our lives, one may wonder what our interactions will look like fifteen years from now. Will it be necessary to call people on telephones? Will we still be able to go to the store, bank, or supermarket, where we had the privilege of meeting, seeing, and conversing with other human beings?
Although these implications may be exaggerated, it's hard to completely disregard the visible pattern unfolding. When this pattern is applied to shaping a successful brand, a company must ask itself, "Are these new interactions advantageous to my brand?" "How does exclusive communication through a computer create an emotional experience for the consumer?" I don't know if it can.
In an era where technology and the digital world is leading us towards newer methods of communication, I urge you not to forget the power and value of an old-fashioned interaction.