The Death of Human Interaction


After I wrote Trial by Myspace, something related came across my Twitter timeline.

I’ve sworn off Twitter till after the election (more time to blog!), so I’m not going to bother to go look it up (does it matter?), but it was to the effect, “People who complain about ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’ need to realize that most social interactions in real life are about the weather.” 

I hate to be doom-and-gloomy, but we are doomed. Comparing the clicking of a “like” button on Facebook or Twitter with even the most rudimentary of face-to-face interactions reveals the emptiness of the former and the richness of the later. 

An Introduction to Representational Systems

Human beings think in representational systems — primarily visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. You can often listen to the language that a person uses to describe the world, and hear what representational system he is using.

See what I mean?

Do you feel me?

As far as I know, nobody thinks exclusively in any one system, but (and my understanding of this is still primitive) we think primarily in one system at a time, and switch between primary systems. So, for example, if you ask me to solve a problem I might first listen to the question, then picture several different solutions, then check how each of them feels, and tell you what I’ve come up with. Or I might need to sketch it on the back of a napkin.

These systems are like channels on a television, or a radio, or … the kinesthetic equivalent of a television or radio? We consciously attend primarily to one at a time (while unconsciously attending to all three). 

Saying “Hi” on All Three Channels 

When we communicate with each other face to face, we provide visual and auditory information. When we touch — even if the touch is just a brief handshake — we provide kinesthetic information as well.

So I see my friend Lonnie in the elevator lobby at the criminal courthouse, and we shake hands and say “hello.” We hear each other’s tone of voice and breathing, see each other’s skin tone, muscle tone, and posture, feel the firmness of each other’s handshake, the dryness of each other’s skin, the duration and vigor of the handshake, the duration of the eye contact.

If I am paying attention, I know if something is bothering Lonnie, or if things are going really well for him. I know whether he’s in good health or has been fighting a bug. I know whether he is preoccupied with something. I know whether he’s happy to be there. And I’m sure there’s more that I’m not thinking of at the moment. The point is that, if we attend, “hello” is much more than hello.

And that’s just one word. If we start talking about the weather, sports, or anything else — the content matters little — we are giving each other megabytes of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic clues. What’s more, these are for the most part clues — minute variations in tone — that only human beings can assimilate and use.

Digital Communication

Clicking “like” or “retweet,” by contrast, provides exactly one bit of information. Neurolinguistic Programming practitioners  might call it “visual-digital” information. This post, too, is visual-digital — the information you get from it is not auditory or kinesthetic (though you might react to it those channels).

I am not a fan of watching videos on the internet. I go to the net for information, and if I want information I want it digitally, not visual-analogically or auditorily. But I suppose that video is as rich as online communication gets, because it provides those channels as well as the words. But even the highest resolution digitized video is not as good as being there, even the highest resolution video doesn’t convey the whole picture, and no video conveys the touch of human skin.

But … the Future!

Adam, Twitter, and God

Could digitized audio be as good as being there? Could online video convey the whole picture, so that we might mistake it for the actual experience? Could kinesthetic signals someday be conveyed over cables so that it’s just like being there?

It’s possible.

But it’d be much easier to get us dishabituated to face-to-face contact — to con us into believing that social media is just as good — than to build the technology to more accurately transmit the richness of such contact.

“Talking about the weather” was the epitome of shallow human interaction before social media, but the serious suggestion that it is anywhere near as shallow as a retweet or “like” betrays how far down that road of dishabituation social media have brought us. 


3 responses to “The Death of Human Interaction”

  1. Plus, if Lonnie is about to stab you in the back, you will note his shifty eyes avoiding eye-contact, him standing un-easily bouncing on the balls of his feet, and detect a faint body odor of nervous sweat. With this bit of personal evaluation, you can conclude he’s the one who stole your yogurt.

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