Is Social Medium Destroying The Human Condition?

Some people close to me joke that I am not a “people person”.  However, truth be told, I much prefer to be in real live social situations with actual human beings than living in the social media space that has thrived recently.   I actually am a people person, I just don’t like big crowds of people.  It’s an “exit” fear or something.  I was never on MySpace, I have only been on FaceBook for a couple of years, and Twitter for just over a year really.  I’ve always been on E-Mail and some form of message boards since I had my first modem with AOL and a Commodore 128.  Recently though I am starting to think that what makes us human in nature is being destroyed the more we turn to social media, texting, or other forms of non-personal communication.

Think about it for a moment.  When was the last time you got a phone call instead of an email or instant message to “Chat”?  Then think back 10 years and how much more often did your phone ring with a voice on the other end instead of that E-Mail or instant message of today?  I would say nine times out of ten, I get an E-Mail, instant message, or other medium from not only friends and family, but also co-workers.  We’ve lost touch with each other on a personal level.  Even working from home more than ever the one thing I miss is that walk to the Cafe for a drink, or a mid day break with a friend to talk about nothing.  The best and worst thing to happen to remote workers has been the increased use of social medium.

I believe it affects us at home.  The lack of social interaction I know has made me personally even less “nice” to my own family sometimes.  Our tones change when we type instead of talk.  We end up treating our own family like another faceless person on the other end of a tweet.  It is always easier to be a jerk in writing when not looking someone in the eye than sitting in front of them.  We are all guilty of that, even myself, and I am not afraid to admit it or am I proud of it.

I think to some very recent events within the past month, and I realize context is completely lost in 140 characters or on a social media thread.  People that don’t know you, or of the back story itself don’t understand the context.  There is never a direct reply to any single message sent and nobody is going to search out the rest of the hidden thread to understand what one person meant.  They are going to take the one message they saw without context, and form opinions of the parties without even knowing them.

As this technology has perpetuated, and company’s have made millions, are they doing it at the possible demise of the Human Condition?  We will seemingly continue to get nastier in our various typed tones to each other.  Social media “Bullying” will continue to fester to a point beyond what we have seen.  We will continue to turn more away from talking to each other to sending instant messages and E-Mails.  We see “Twitter Wars” on a regular basis on topics where there are people attacking each other’s opinions instead of listening to each other’s thoughts.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think social medium has done wonders for small business and people trying to reach beyond the traditional geographical limitations.  My wife and I both see that benefit daily with her company as well as my other side projects around Virtual Fitness.  Those are different uses of the medium however to drive a reach to people you otherwise would not meet.

Where I am going with this isn’t simply just a rant on a rainy Saturday morning.  The last few weeks in particular have had some incidents that affected me personally and I tend to reflect on those kinds of things.  I simply woke up with some thoughts in my head about this topic.  I am starting to wonder just how bad this will get as more and more of us turn inward to social media instead of outward to being human to one another.  I still struggle with the diplomacy in E-Mail and other mediums myself.  I cannot count the times I have had my own words spun the wrong way, mis-interpreted, or seen as argumentative.  Was that my intent?  I don’t think so, but maybe sub-consciously it was.  Maybe I was trying to be less human because it was E-Mail or other non verbal medium.  Would I have that same kind of tone in person with the same people?  Maybe……but maybe not.

I’ve said my peace for the day, I obviously have some reflection of my own to do and the thoughts are now out of my head.  There is a part of me that wonders if I should even be on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, even this very blog sometimes.  After all, you will never please everyone, but that’s okay.  We are all entitled to our opinions without being told they are incorrect.  This is precisely why I am selective on who is on certain streams or on various lists.  We just don’t have to be nasty to each other when the only thing the seems to bring us together is the very social medium that is making us less human.  It almost seems like a paradox…..or better yet…..a self fulfilling prophecy.  I personally would always enjoy talking to anymore more than texting or typing instant messages.

About Chris Colotti

Chris is active on the VMUG and event speaking circuit and is available for many events if you want to reach out and ask. Previously to this he spent close to a decade working for VMware as a Principal Architect. Previous to his nine plus years at VMware, Chris was a System Administrator that evolved his career into a data center architect. Chris spends a lot of time mentoring co-workers and friends on the benefits of personal growth and professional development. Chris is also amongst the first VMware Certified Design Experts (VCDX#37), and author of multiple white papers. In his spare time he helps his wife Julie run her promotional products as the accountant, book keeper, and IT Support. Chris also believes in both a healthy body and healthy mind, and has become heavily involved with fitness as a Diamond Team Beachbody Coach using P90X and other Beachbody Programs. Although Technology is his day job, Chris is passionate about fitness after losing 60 pounds himself in the last few years.


  1. Very well put Chris! I too struggle with this as I see this “big switch” in our society. We’re typing more …talking less. An example of this is my 20 year old stepson. In one month on his cell phone he had 9450 text messages. Really. When I looked at what I sent for the same month, it was 200. I believe that we need to teach some kind of etiquette to our children as to when to text and when to talk. We’re losing the human emotion of our voices.

  2. What I wonder is why you posted it up on here instead of having a good long talk with your wife about? As that is also something many of us would have done instead years ago. And yes I am also guilty of that…

  3. While I will agree that the nature of communication has changed, and that there are challenges associated with it, I won’t concede that it’s a bad thing, or that the technology isn’t a huge asset.

    I bet when telephones were introduced, people said the same thing.  Then, it was the loss of the written letter, and now we have come full circle again.  Every form of communication has it’s advantages and drawback.  The key is that each one demands something different from both the communicator AND the listener!  I think that part of the issue, especially when the amount of text is limited, is that people who are using things like Twitter and e-mail aren’t always willing to put in the time and effort to hold up their end of the conversation.  If you choose to use these new communications tools you have to be willing to understand how it changes the process, and how you have to change your behavior.  Just like the introduction of the telephone didn’t mean you could forget how to talk to people in person, new forms of communication don’t replace older forms, they just supplement them.

    There’s no such thing as a bad method of communications; there are lots of bad communicators. For every person who drives you batty by saying things that are destined to be taken out of context, there are dozens who use Twitter and e-mail like a scalpel, giving more context and layers of information than you thought was possible.  Let’s point those folks out and hold them up as examples.  Don’t be discouraged by the forms of communication available to you, find out how YOU can use them to best effect!

    • “f you choose to use these new communications tools you have to be willing to understand how it changes the process, and how you have to change your behavior. ”

      I think this is where many of us, myself included fall down.  We start to fall into bad behavior because it’s just “easier”.  I would submit that even with the phone, at least there is a voice on the other end, and you can get tone and context from a voice.  Having been in phone sales they teach you people can even tell when you are smiling over the phone, which is 100% true.  

      Although not face to face it still serves as a more personal means of communication.  No matter how many smiley faces you put in a message it’s just not the same to me as when you talk…..even via the phone.

      “There’s no such thing as a bad method of communications; there are lots of bad communicators.” – I agree!

      Thanks for your well thought out comment my friend!

  4. Your points are valid and Jeramiah is absolutely correct in his statement that its the bad communicators that are at fault and not the medium in which they choose to communicate.

    I would ask you to look at the other side of this conversation.  Not from the side of an extroverted personality, or someone like yourself who is comfortable in social situations when it isn’t an overly large crowd, but from the side of the introvert.  Social media and other text-based communications are a great platform for individuals who don’t posses the social skills necessary to communicate effectively, whether in person or over the phone.  In some cases, I would be willing to bet that social media enables people who aren’t comfortable in social situations to become more comfortable over time.  

    • Indeed, you are correct about it helping those that are less adapt at social situations.  What’s a shame is that those who are more introverted may become less apt to use the new medium when one of those “poor communicators” fires back at them I think.  When it is done in writing you can re-read the assault over and over.  When something is said verbally you tend to forget about it more quickly.  It would be no different really than why most people are afraid to ask a question for fear of being laughed at or made fun of.  The thing is it is easy I think for those poor communicators to do it when they are not face to face with the other individual, but they forget those written words may be re-read over and over.

      Most people that have seen me present know I am VERY comfortable in front of a large crowd.  I enjoy it actually and I have great fun with it.  Would anyone who has seen me present think that I was DEATHLY afraid of public speaking when I was younger?  The first time I did a business presentation I actually threw up 10 minutes before and I was in my 20’s.  I just become more confident in what I do over time.  However, that confidence has also been perceived as cockiness and I have been told that I am a “Cocky” individual.  Unfortunately I don’t think many people can differentiate between them.  Sadly, I always feel as though I try to be humble and that I am never the smartest guy in the room.  How else could I learn from other people?  

      That’s a subject for a completely different post all together now that I am thinking about it 🙂

      I really am enjoying everyone’s input on this little thought of mine.  It is helping me understand myself and my own use of non verbal medium more.  That was my goal.

  5. Thoughtful post. I agree that the change in communication medium does cause fractures in society. But to Jeramiah’s point, we all have to learn how to skillfully wield these new tools. Things get broken in the transition period of learning to use new tools. Communication is never a perfect craft regardless. Reminds me of this post, which also raises some very valid points, with a research based hyptohesis stating social media is making us unhappy.

    • Excellent link.  I especially like the last section “Last, there’s a decline of close relationships.”  That’s somewhat the same as I am saying.  Although I still like the conversation here about the poor communicators and the introverts.  There’s value in a lot of these comments.

      Hey I’m not always about Virtualization….I like these interesting kinds of posts every once in a while to break away from the day to day “How To” articles.

  6. Here is a question to pose:

    Is it the responsibility of the writer to consider all the feelings of all the possible readers, or is it the responsibility of the readers to not take things too personally?  If they don’t know the writer, can they really get the context of that person’s humor or “tone”?

    I believe it is a little of both, but in the word of social medium the writers, even the “poor communicators” don’t always know who all the readers are going to be, so which side does the pendulum of responsibility swing in that case?  

    It has always been said if you don’t like the music or what you are seeing you have the option to turn it off.  Does the same apply here?  Doesn’t the readers have the option to not reply or even follow the writer?

  7. Here is a question to pose:

    Is it the responsibility of the writer to consider all the feelings of all the possible readers, or is it the responsibility of the readers to not take things too personally?  If they don’t know the writer, can they really get the context of that person’s humor or “tone”?

    I believe it is a little of both, but in the word of social medium the writers, even the “poor communicators” don’t always know who all the readers are going to be, so which side does the pendulum of responsibility swing in that case?  

    It has always been said if you don’t like the music or what you are seeing you have the option to turn it off.  Does the same apply here?  Doesn’t the readers have the option to not reply or even follow the writer?

    • Good question.  Let’s take the choice of medium out of it.  Is it the responsibility of a speaker to consider the feelings of the people watching/hearing him speak?  Of course it is.  Is it also the responsibility of the listener to understand the context of the speech?  Absolutely.  If I walked in on a Comedy Central roast, it’s my responsibility to understand the framework of what’s going to happen and decide if I want to stay.  It’s certainly not the people GIVING the roast to worry about my feelings!

      Think about people who are abrasive in person.  Do you stay and listen to them?  Sometimes you do.  Sometimes the content is good enough to put up with it.  Sometimes there is a professional obligation to stay.  Same with people who are NOT good public speakers.  Same with people who aren’t good bloggers.  Same with some people on Twitter.  I can choose to engage, I can choose to respond, I can choose to offer feedback.  Or not.  Just like when someone is right in front of me.

      Communication doesn’t have to be two-way, but is MUST be two-sided.  Someone has to produce, and someone has to consume.  Both have their own responsibilities regardless of the medium.

      • At least you did not say “Someone has to PROVIDE and someone has to consume”  That would have been to cloud-like 🙂

        I think it is no secret my friend you and I see very similarly on this for sure.

  8. I think social media can be extremely helpful, if used properly.  I’m not a ‘mingler’.  I’d rather find one or two people I click with, either over knowledge, video games, cooking, or something else, and just speak with them all night than talk to 50 people handing out business cards.  But, since I’ve joined Twitter a few weeks ago, I feel like I have the ability to ‘mingle’ and get myself out there and known within this Virtualization / Cloud community, without the awkward BS that makes me so uncomfortable.  But at the same time, I still feel like I’m able to form the couple meaningful relationships that I’m comfortable with based on common interests / personalities.  

    Now with regards to how social media is changing your behavior… Well – I think there’s two reasons for that.  First, you’re probably used to being honest online.  It’s easier to be honest without having a spouse standing in front of you ready to slap you.  Sometimes being a jerk isn’t the same as being asshole.  In my mind, a jerk is someone who says something that is truthful without the intent of causing harm, but, the recipient is harmed.  An asshole is someone who says something with the sole intent of causing harm.  If you’re just being a jerk according to my definition, it’s probably just because you’re being honest about something that maybe you should alter a little bit 🙂  

    Everyones spouses is a complete pain in the ass at some point, but if your honesty filter falters, it’s not exactly helpful to either party at the immediate moment.  There’s plenty of times I’m sure you feel like your spouse / good friend / co-worker is completely wrong and full of shit. Second, your communications filter for verbal speaking is probably weaker if a large majority of your communications is through type.  I’ll get into that a little bit more below. I’m going to diverge a little bit from your original topic and touch upon personalities first.

    It really depends on the person creating the content, either through the interwebs, or in person.  Myself, I will type something, reread it, and retype it maybe 4 times until it sounds right to me.  I ‘highly’ prefer communicating online due to this – my ability to measure myself before I hit the enter button.  Even if it’s something like tweets, IM communication, etc.  You still have a few seconds to make sure you didn’t say anything you think would be interpreted differently.  I feel like this allows me to really extract the most value out of my communications with others.
    There are definitely lots of people that don’t behave like this, and will just immediately see something and type a completely terrible response.  Whereas myself, I feel I can use internet communications as a way of being much more tactical with how, when, and what I say.  Shit, I met my wife playing World of Warcraft :P. When you don’t have that buffer though, such as speaking in person, you REALLY can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.  In some ways you can judge someone as being more ‘true’ to who they are by talking to them in person, but that is usually with the same people who don’t analyze everything they communicate.  I reserve my speaking, especially if I am annoyed or upset.  It’s much harder to get my true feelings about a situation because I know if I start giving it, well, the  truth can hurt. 
    From what I’ve read from you in the past few weeks since I’ve joined Twitter, you seem to be sort of the same way.  I would bet a decent amount of money you aren’t the type who sends out those retarded emails you see addressed to thousands of corporate employees acting like a child on a reply-all storm haha… On that same token though, I do not get offended by really anything.  I prefer to have someone speak without regard to the ‘feelings’ of people in the audience.  If what they’re saying isn’t for me, I won’t be mad at them.  I’ll just leave or cut the conversation short.  Now, on that same token, you NEED to know your audience for your communication to be effective.  If you say something that makes the audience not want to listen to you, then what’s the point of speaking / communicating at all?  

    Some audiences though will always have people you will offend no matter what you say.  There might be a Microsoft Hyper-V evangelist that thinks you’re full of shit.  Well guess what, who cares what he thinks.   You need your VMware minions to clap and applause, not win over that guy.  It’s more important what the INTENDED audience is.  If you are speaking about tasty bacon products and your audience has a few vegans / PETA people in it, well, not your problem.  They weren’t your intended audience to begin with.  You wanted to speak to bacon lovers.  

    For a real example, your fitness stuff / p90x tweets.  I think it’s great that you have found something you love, and really are trying to get others to join you.  Getting in shape and being healthy is a noble goal, and it’s something you seem to really have a passion about.  If anyone following you specifically for VMware stuff is a fat 400lb slob, and starts to get annoyed by it – well you know what?  Fuck them.  It’s something you truly believe in and you ARE reaching an audience out there that appreciates it.  If they don’t like it enough they can just unfollow you.  If they bitch enough,  you can block them.  You CANNOT make everyone happy.  Shit, I bet there’s someone out there that may not like me randomly cursing in a post like this.  But, this is how I am, and I feel like if someone gets mad over a little bit of words used to express your feelings, they’re not someone I’d care about anyways.  Everyone is brought up differently, and has experienced drastically different lives.  Judging someone because of curse words in my opinion is one of the most foolish things people can do.  I could have EASILY left this part off, since it is typing, and I did reread this entire post – but I wanted to leave it due to the original topic and content of your post. 

    Sorry for the diversion and probably giving you more stuff to talk about – but this is the power of the social media / communications we have now.  You said you’d prefer to have personal communications face to face, but if we didn’t have this media type, we’d have most likely never been able to have this conversation in the first place. It may have been even more cool – but how often are you able to get lots of people you like to talk to rounded up in the first place?  The ability to read someones thoughts, think about it, and then respond a few hours later is invaluable to me.  Granted, that’s not saying I wouldn’t like to eat dinner with you and just ‘talk’ – Let our brains spew out thoughts and ideas and go on a magical journey.  But, we don’t have to sacrifice one to have the other.  If we balance the ways we use these tools we have, and realize each tool has benefits and drawbacks, I think we can get much more value out of communications than using just one single method. 

    TLDR (Too long didn’t read?); Twitter is nice, lots of people are fragile, read my wall of text

    • I read the whole thing twice!  It is nice to see so many people thinking the way I would hope.  Unfortunately there is always doing to be a lot of others that don’t.  I particularly like your definition of a jerk vs A-Hole.

      It is interesting that the most replies on any blog post I have written has nothing to do with technology! 🙂

  9. I think the key is to not let this be “our” identity.  At the end of the day I am a husband, a dad, a person looking to connect with other people in more then a superficial way.  I know recently I have personally set goals for myself to “Check back in” to reality and pick up that phone and call friends and loved ones.  At the end of the day no one in the social world is really going to remember you I think, at least they aren’t going to be the ones to be there for you when you hit the floor.  Chris, I appreciate this fresh post and pointing out the realities associated with it.  This was bold in my opinion, and again NICE JOB!  It’s nice to read something more then usual.

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