Independent and FREE - 2021 Best Online Publication

In this digital era, we’ve never been so disconnected

Independent and FREE – 2021 Best Online Publication (Qld Country Press)

In this digital era, we’ve never been so disconnected


We spend so much time online but living in 3D brings richer rewards

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Facing up to facts. Facing the music.

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Concern is growing that our ability to interact in person and front facing is dying, with the pandemic creating crevices of the digitally created cracks.

We are not really living in 3D anymore.

Evidence is building that we may never have been more digitally available, but we have also never felt lonelier or less connected. Sadly, this is particularly the experience of the younger generations.

Speaking face-to-face is direct, engaging and intimate, and maybe that is why it makes so many people uncomfortable.

Messaging doesn’t even require correct English syntax use anymore. We can order virtually anything online and get it without having to have an exchange with a real person.

Talking through a screen allows for filter and lighting adjustment to ensure the projection of a false perfection. But screens are two dimensional – a partial truth.

In her bestseller Reclaiming Conversation, science and technology professor Sherry Turkle found our creativity and capacity to empathise started to slide when we began to speak through machines.

Now, she points out, we increasingly speak to them. But you can’t call interactions with Siri or Google or Alexa meaningful interactions.

Talking to others online just isn’t the same as in person. Picture: Shutterstock.

While interacting in 3D might make us feel exposed, it also bring rich rewards.

You are never more human than when you stand with another, face each other, look each other in the eye – and talk.

You can read their body language and hear their tone of voice. And they can see and hear you.

The wheels of our society are greased by our human-ness, not just our information.

We used to share inside knowledge by word of mouth. Inside jokes were delivered with a wink and a nod. We arch our eyebrows at something surprising and grit our teeth when something requires gumption.

Our faces are what we should present to the world – and the unfiltered, full-colour and in-person version has a whole new level of real.

Face-to-face conversation is what we communication researchers call ‘data rich’. Even now, we use it when a matter is serious, such as telling someone of their promotion or a death in their family.

In-person, 3D conversation draws on facial expressions, requires making mental images, calling up memories and mining conversational creativity. We can tell a lot about the other.

Humans are relational. They need connection in a way that isn’t delivered by text.

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People need connection in a way that isn’t delivered by text. Picture: Shutterstock.

A news media boss on the Coast encouraged me this week to purposely weave practising in-person social skills in my university classes, saying so many of those seeking jobs or interning with them were far from warm or friendly.

They did not seem to want to engage in conversation, she said, avoided eye contact, and lacked overt curiosity and interest outside themselves.

This is an observation I have heard repeatedly in recent years – and it is getting worse.

Who knew talking about the weather and practising smiling while we say please and thank you to a real person would be deemed optional rather than social necessities?

There is surely no more powerful form of communicating than face-to-face, eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart.

A full life requires living in 3D.

Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer. The views expressed are her own.