Earlier today, I saw a tweet from one of my friends to his wife. It simply said, “Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetheart!” Part of me smiled and felt those warm fuzzies. The other part of me…well…cringed.
Now, since this duo lives together, I can only assume that he said Valentine’s Day to her in person as well, but what if this isn’t the case? Let’s say I don’t love with my significant other – is a Valentine’s Day tweet “enough”? Is a text better? Is an email better? Is a voice mail better? If they all say the same thing – Happy Valentine’s Day – why is one way of communication better than the other?
Let’s switch gears for a moment (I swear we’ll circle back around to the Valentine’s Day tweet at the end), and talk about the last few emails you’ve sent and received. The new media world has created this weird ability to “get to know” someone without ever interacting with them, the same way we’d “get to know” a movie star or other type of celebrity. So, when emailing someone for the first time, it’s always a little awkward.
I get emails all the time that start off with “Hi Allison…” – and not from people I know. From people I’ve never met who have a question or comment. It’s a little awkward when someone is pitching me. Part of me thinks, What the heck? You people don’t know me. What ever happened to Ms. Boyer?
And yet, when I do get emails that call me Ms. Boyer, they feel way to stuffy and part of me things, What the heck? You people couldn’t even do enough research to find out my first name is Allison?
I’m a hard girl to please.
Things are even worse when I have to send an email to someone I don’t know personally, especially when I’ve been reading their blog for years. Do I go with Mr./Mrs./Ms.? Do I use a first name? Should I go with the first-last combo? Oh god, should I even be emailing this person at all?
And there there’s the situation to consider. What if I’m applying for a job? What if I’m a lot older than the other person? What if I’m a lot younger than the other person? What if I know they read my blog or we follow one another on Twitter, but we’ve never actually spoken?
And what if I’m calling instead? Do I ask for the person by first name?
Please tell me that I’m not alone in having a slight panic attack over communicating with people I haven’t met yet.
100 years ago when sending a letter to someone – heck, even 20 years ago – we would have never thought twice about this. No one sent letters to people they didn’t know without using the proper, formal salutation.
I Feel Like I Already Know You!
The reason the email salutation thing is even an issue at all is before new media makes it really easy to get to know everything about a person’s life without ever actually speaking to one another. People make an astonishing amount of information about themselves public. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met someone at a conference or event for the first time and they say, “I feel like I already know you!” And I’m not immune to it – I feel like there are people online that I know pretty intimately, yet they probably don’t even know I exist.
It’s a little creepy, right? It’s also a little sad. We’re substituting actually forming relationship with just reading about a person’s life.
On the other hand, it’s also kind of cool. We’re able to meet people we otherwise would have never gotten to meet without social media and blogs. Some of my best friends are people I’ve met online. That’s pretty awesome.
The problem comes when you forget that people show only the best version of themselves online. I talked a little about this earlier together when I talked about online dating. When you meet someone in person and really get to know them (not just read their blog), the result isn’t always what you were expecting.
New Communication isn’t Bad Communication
It’s human nature to be scare of things that are new. But new media is also very exciting. We have all these new, fast ways of connecting with people that we didn’t have before. A tweet (or Facebook wall message or whatever) doesn’t have to be better or worse than any other form of communication. It’s all about the how and why.
Are you using Facebook to break up with someone because it’s too upsetting to do it in person? Fail. Are you using Facebook to invite someone to your party because it’s the best way to contact lots of people at once and allow them to RSVP? Win.
New media becomes a communication problem when we’re using it to avoid other forms of communication, but these tools can be awesome too.
So the real question here, the one I asked in the title of this post, is this: is new media making us too casual with one another? And my personal answer to this question is both yes and no.
Yes, because it makes it easy to forget that someone real is behind that avatar. It makes us lazily tweet Happy Valentine’s Day when we should connect with that person in real life, broadcast “Happy Holidays” messages when we should write individual cards (or at least individual emails), and endorse people we “know” without taking the time to learn more about what they’re really like behind the persona they present online.
No, because new media allows us to connect in entirely new ways with more people than would ever be possible without online resources. We can send messages faster, make declarations of love public, and allow lots of people to get to know us via our blogs and profiles.
What do you think? Are new media tools making too casual with communication?