Are We Becoming A Little Less Human Online?

2676960860_fa358c04a1_oI’ve been watching the TV series HEROES. The show is about people but with special abilities – flight, invisibility, ability to predict the future, melting solid objects, instant healing from any injury, and many more – who live among the normal population.

During one of the episodes.  Claire Bennet, a high school cheerleader who can instantly heal from any injury, loses her ability to feel pain. Pain was one of the few things that made Claire feel human.

After I watched that episode, I started thinking about my own experiences – offline and online – and about the many ways in which many of us are just a little less human when we’re online. Part of the problem lies in the medium – we can’t usually see the people we’re talking to online, and that makes our conversations a bit more detached and impersonal. We send @ messages on Twitter, post updates on Facebook, send emails and direct messages, and think of those activities as conversations. And they are indeed conversations – through these conversations, we learn, share, teach, laugh, discuss, debate, etc.

But as we continue to become a society that spends increasing amounts of time looking at a computer, are we losing a bit of emotion with each conversation? In the quest for popularity and followers and/or  friends, are we losing perspective? Are we more likely to forget when we’re online that harsh words and criticism can hurt others? And we quicker to judge others when we have the cloak of invisibility surrounding our online activities? And is this trend impacting our offline relationships too?

What do you think?

Image credit: 파파곰

  • Audree Rowe

    Hi Ross,

    I absolutely agree that the time people spend on the internet is changing the way they interact with each other. It’s kind of like how people act when in their cars. With that barrier around them, they seem to feel free to act in a way they wouldn’t dare if they were face to face with another person.


  • Ross

    Audree – you’re absolutely right about cars – good example. Technology does tend to create interesting barriers that influences how people behave.

  • Audree Rowe

    Ross – What ARE those things in the pictures?

  • Ross

    Audree – I’m guessing they are chestnuts – but I’m not sure. I thought it was a cool photo and really creative demonstration of human emotion.

  • Natalie MacNeil

    This post reminded me of this scene in Wall-E:

    In the movie, humans are nothing but blobs that have no interaction with each other -only with a computer screen that sits directly in front of their face all the time. I believe in building a strong brand online and engaging in conversations through various social media platforms, however, it is equally important to attend conferences, networking events, and interact with people in-person to maintain those “human” relationships.

    Last year I sent thank you cards to some of my top blog followers, commenters, and people who promoted my website. People were absolutely shocked to receive a hand written thank you note. One person said she hadn’t received a thank you card in years. Another said it absolutely made her day. You can have all the followers you want, if you don’t make personal, “human” connections with those people they won’t be of much value.

  • Ross

    Natalie – you’re absolutely right about the need to maintain “human” relationships. I’ve been most satisfied when I’ve had the opportunity to develop offline relationships with many of the people I’ve met online – and our online interactions have become richer as a result. And it’s so true what you write about thank you notes. We just don’t send such notes anymore and receiving one today is really special – really smart of you to add that personal touch to engage your community.

  • Paul Caswell

    Thanks for the post and I love the puffer fishes!

    The bandwidth that exists between two or more humans in the same physical space so much greater than our on-line communications. I have experienced profound joy and deep connection when the setting is right. I have also experienced embarrassment when my own incompetence gets in the way of face-to-face connections.

    I know I need to become more competent at direct human-to-human communications and I’m guessing I’m not alone in this. I have found that understanding personality differences, seeking mutual areas of passion and a sense of humor are very helpful! This is a personal interest that inspired me to start WeaveThePeople and one I am continuing to explore.

  • Ross

    Paul – thanks for adding your thoughts to the discussion. I wonder if our ability to understand personality differences is compromised online. I’ve read some studies which suggest that humor is often misinterpreted – especially in emails. And as Audree suggests, people simply act differently when online. Do you think technology can overcome this gap? Are products like Google Wave moving us in the right direction, or further entrenching the problems?

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