There’s a lot of buzz around social media these days and, of course, the Internet has become the de-facto platform for communication and commerce. We have the ability to connect and interact in ways never thought possible. Customers have become Fans and the Fans can determine quickly whether your product or service wins or losses. Facebook and Twitter and texting have replaced e-mail and voice-mail (and does anyone ever remember the written letter, or the “while you were out” notes anymore?). As a result, our stories, our ideas, our dreams and our passions can only exist if they fit into 140 characters.
There are some individuals who are challenging the direction we are heading. Futurist Jaron Lanier writes that the concept of reputation has been reduced to the quantity of connections and how one’s persona on the web is often a fiction compared to one’s persona in real life. Journalist Nicholas Carr describes that, through the internet, we have become playwright Richard Foreman’s “pancake people”, “wide and thin as a pancake because thanks to the next link we are constantly jumping from one piece of information to another. We get wherever we want, but at the same time we lose depth because we no longer time to reflect, contemplate.”
These are not the voices of stone-age luddites decrying technological advances. There is value to engage your customers or friends using the tools of Web 2.0. But there is also danger in expecting that the quality of that engagement will be enough to sustain meaningful relationships over time.
To be fair, the internet is not the sole villain in this play. For years, businesses have tried many ways to reduce the depth of their interactions with their customers and prospects via direct mail, call centers and all forms of mass-media. Indeed web 2.0 tools can increase the possibility of a two-way conversation. The challenge is being able to both listen and have something of value to say during that dialogue.
The key is to provide the opportunity to engage and inform with a depth and to a degree that one can’t get elsewhere. Individuals and businesses that can combine Web 2.0 with Contemplation 1.0 will be the ones with the strongest and most authentic relationships.