Is social media making us less social?

Reading a room is an important skill in any profession, PR or otherwise. Some of the best presenters have mastered the art of interpreting nonverbal cues and adjusting their tone, pace and even their body language to suit the mood of the people in the room. Obviously, these skills have to be honed over time and, not surprisingly, often senior members hold a considerable advantage over their younger counterparts.

Introduce social media into the mix, however, and this structure is turned on its head. What younger members lack in experience they can make up for in early adoption and familiarity with tools like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Their constant exploration and eagerness to try new platforms, coupled with their broad social reach online, give them a leg up on older folks, who aren't as well-versed in these constantly-evolving social tools.

This is not to say that younger people are all social media wizards or most Boomers are Luddites, but it does help to level the corporate playing field for both sides. Younger professionals may be more comfortable with social media than many seasoned executives, but that doesn't mean they're more social - in fact many argue it could be just the opposite. I came across one of those arguments in an article I read recently (which I found on Twitter, of all things) by Mark Bauerlein of The Wall Street Journal called, "Why Gen-Y Johnny Can't Read Nonverbal Cues."  The gist of the piece is that while younger generations may be very adept at verbal communication via texts, tweets and Facebook posts, they're capacity for "silent literacy" or the interpretation of nonverbal cues is muted by "continuous partial attention" - thanks to the iPhones and other toys they use to stay permanently connected.

Mark Bauerlein goes on to explain how older people are very good face-to-face, but younger generations lack this skill, often missing attitudes or judgements expressed through facial expressions or movements that Boomers would easily pick up on. Is all hope lost? Are we as a generation doomed to morph into half-dead, distracted drones?  The answer isn't clear, but I personally think social media creates a great learning opportunity, for both sides of the spectrum. Younger professionals can pass their knowledge and experience using social media to their higher-ups, while simultaneously taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge older members have with face-to-face interaction and the ability to "read" a room.

Social media may be a vehicle for our own destruction or another way to connect people, but it's clear that it has an impact on our capabilities top to bottom.

Contributed by: Gretchen Doores. Follow her @canadiangal84

For more information on social literacy and nonverbal cues, she'd suggest reading:
-Mark Bauerlein's WSJ article, "Why Gen-Y Johnny Can't Read Nonverbal Cues"
- Clive Thompson's WIRED piece, "Clive Thompson on the New Literacy"