January 16, 2012
social networking

The Anti-Social Social Dilemma

The problem I see on the horizon for leaders, teachers and parents is what I’m referring to as the anti-social social dilemma.

I believe I am social media, social networking and social learning’s number one fan. I also strongly believe that IT, HR and Learning leaders should be experimenting with up and coming social sites to a) keep abreast of what’s going on in the social space to b) determine if such feature or functionality could assist business processes, sales or internal engagement opportunities.

For example, have you ever heard of TimeHop, Pinterest, Bump.com or Wooplr? Savvy leaders will stay ahead of the ‘social’ chasm and ensure they are plugged in to reap downstream benefits.

But therein lies the problem.

No matter what generation we’re referring to, although I’m deeply concerned about Gen Y & Z, in relation to the school or work experience … are we getting to the point where the proliferation of ‘social’ is actually creating anti-social behaviours?

Is the explosion of ‘social’ (and to a degree technology in general) driving personality disorders such that we’re shying away from face-to-face contact? Due to greater volumes of time spent on ‘social’, are we forgetting to teach and develop our in-person skills? When we do get in-person, how are we acting or reacting? The same?

It may be easier to share, communicate and feel more connected to others using social tools, however, what is it doing to our actual social skills? Are those skills being radically redefined as we continue to multiply the sheer volume of social technologies by factors well behind our imagination?

Gartner released “Top Predictions for IT Organizations and Users for 2012 and Beyond” in late 2011. Two of the predictions caught my attention:

  • By 2015, mobile application development projects targeting smartphones and tablets will outnumber native PC projects by a ratio of 4-to-1.
  • By 2016, at least 50 percent of enterprise email users will rely primarily on a browser, tablet or mobile client instead of a desktop client.


As we become more mobile through the technological advances in smartphone and tablet technologies, the R&D investment dollars are naturally trickling into this new stream.

As a result, the desktop disappears (not a bad thing, per se) and we no longer have a reason to meet face-to-face to work on projects, ideas, analyses, etc. as the super-charged smartphone and tablet with its fancy and uber-developed social apps make it so easy to hide from physical contact.

If we’re only communicating, sharing and learning in a social space, my fear is we’re missing out on the development of key behaviours and skills that might occur in face-to-face opportunities.

I’ve stated before that learning is part formal, informal and social.

Likewise, I’ve stated that leadership should be treated as a formal, informal and social continuum.

And I’ve also remarked that one should employ the CARE principal if they are truly going to be collaborative.

As Gen Y & Z (and those Gen X and Boomers getting sucked into the social only vortex) continue their own progression in life, it’s incumbent upon all leaders in any organization to ensure we provide the right development opportunities as well as the right face-to-face situations to hone and advance these sorts of behaviours and skills.

Anything social should be integrated in with face-to-face scenarios as well.

But an all social diet of interaction, collaboration, sharing, communicating and learning does nothing for society. We cannot be turning our employees or students into drones.

By now, some of you have labeled me either as a hypocrite or a Luddite. Unjust, but fair enough. I believe I’m as social as it comes, and I wouldn’t know how to operate in a world devoid of social.

But, I also know how to work a room, facilitate a meeting, lead a learning session, drive a coffee chat, conduct a 1-1 review, and brainstorm with a litany of whiteboards. It’s this blend which I fear is being lost in favour of an all social raison d’etre.

My 8 year-old was using an iPhone in our home one day in November, 2011. I received a text from her and it read, “Hi Daddy, can we have dinner now?”

I was 10 feet away from her on a couch.

Naturally, I asked her, “Claire, why did you text me? Why not just come over and ask me?”

Her reply? “Dad, it’s easier this way.”

Did I mention she’s 8?

Let’s not create the anti-social social society.

9 Replies to “The Anti-Social Social Dilemma”

  1. While I agree that the anti-social social dilemma is a real problem, I’d actually embrace it in the enterprise. It would be a good sign.

    Your home example is a little scary though. And if this problem appears outside the enterprise long before social takes off, it can become (another) major obstacle to adoption.

  2. Dan, first and foremost I agree with you. Your daughter’s actions can be seen as alarming. But allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment (just a moment, as I stated in the beginning I do agree with you). Communication is constantly changing, has been since the first cave paintings. Latin, once the dominant language of Western Europe is now considered “dead” and many computer languages are also moot. Social graces that were once commonplace (curtsy, tipping of ones hat) have been replaced with less formal methods and equally acceptable greetings. I wonder if then yet another transformation is taking place that will ultimately blend with F2F rather than compete with it…will a new normal happen where we will one day look back and say remember when people used begin each conversation with some variation of hello 😉

  3. I worry about this all the time. I don’t think that our kids today have the vocabulary or social skills that we have. I appreciate that they have created a new form of pig Latin through texting speak etc but I want to be sure they can spell and write etc..Perhaps I sound like an old person saying this but we have to remember that connections are personal and it’s easy to hide behind a key board or create a digital image of our perfect selves…. we have to foster learning by real experiences, travel, volunteering, touching, smelling, seeing, meeting…there is a blend for sure but I worry ALOT…about what will happen. My 2 Cents

  4. This study http://bit.ly/yP5bCl by the University of Michigan’s Institute of Social Research only infers causality between the proliferation of device driven interactions and a growing lack of empathy. Regardless, echoing, Danielle, we all see (and do) behaviours in traffic (or online) that would never occur in the same crowd face to face instead of windshield to windshield (or screen to screen). Mark’s point on the evolution on conventions is well taken, but is based on the evolution of face to face protocols. The countless articles/blogs about social’s tone-deafness leads me to believe our hardwired ability to empathise and connect based on non-verbal cues hasn’t evolved to Facebook, Twitter etc..

    Indifference has no upside in any setting and Dan your point that social must enhance not replace personal interaction is bang on. Finding the balance when so many collaboration support systems are justified on business cases around the elimination of face to face costs is the more daunting conversation.

  5. @Mark – I know, I’m torn. I’m always at that bleeding edge of change, but again, my biggest fear are the interpersonal skills of a F2F relationship. I’m not convinced we can teach this or that it is learned via a digital only society.

    @Danielle – exactly, I feel like a Luddite with this post (and my thoughts) but I’m sticking to my guns until I’m waving around a cane as a 100 y/o

    @John – “indifference has no upside in any setting” … brilliantly said, and thanks for the additional research piece at UoM that corroborates the point

  6. Dan,
    Thought provoking post. Two things that I find interesting.
    1) most of the highly effective people still meet f2f as the preferred way to communicate. I do not believe this will change high performers, even 20 years out they will seek ways to meet f2f.
    2) Why is you daughter using technology at such an early age? Dude, your going to stifle her creativity and f2f abilities. She will lose the one thing that will give her competitive advantage in a global workplace. Kids everywhere (on the planet) are rapidly building social media skills, but few have the competitive advantage of creativity and great f2f. I have and I will be keeping my kids away from tech until grade 9… and most parents and teachers say they are either the most creative they have met or the best communicators.

  7. Dan,
    Just after writing this post I turned around and my two non-tech savvy boys (6 & 7) were sitting f2f painting. A box and some bones they had found from their regular play outside. They had worked together to put a drop sheet down cleaned off the table and moved it back over the drop sheet. They set up the paints and got to work discussing and planning the colors and the project as a whole. Sorry for the rant… lets think different about helping our kids develop thee creative skills they need for a successful future. I don’t believe it comes from a tablet. Be Well…

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