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Social Separation

“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.” – Albert Einstein


A rather strong statement – Perhaps.

In a session at December’s EDPA conference, a keynote speaker was citing several alarming statistics: The average American watches approximately 33 hours of television per week. This does not include social media. When you add in Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, texting, etc., the number is more like 55 hours per week. That equates to more than seven hours per day. For those of us in the United States, this is more than any other country in the world.

Assuming a person has a full-time job, works eight hours a day (at least) and sleeps anywhere from six to eight hours per night, that leaves about one to three hours per day for other things. Take out commuting and other tasks, and there is not a lot of time for actually doing things with others.

The same set of researchers also found that about 17 percent of our nation’s population moves every year. There is a constant shifting of the population. The days of putting down roots in a community and developing lifelong friendships there are gone. Think about your neighborhood, your company, your church. How many have moved in the last 10 years?

I live on a court with 11 homes on it. We moved into our home in 1998. Of the 10 neighbors we had in that year, only two remain. All of the others have moved.
Not only are we spending more time in front of our televisions and computers and smart phones, we are also changing residences more often. So, even if you put down the remote for a few minutes and walked out on your front porch, you probably wouldn’t know the folks next door, anyway.

Scientists have labeled this phenomenon “social separation.” We’re all here and we’re all together, but we’re not actually interacting with each other face-to-face. I see it everywhere I go. Six people are sitting at a table in a restaurant. Not a word is being spoken because they’re all texting. Three people sitting on a bench in the art museum and not one person is looking at the art or talking with each other. They’re all checking their Facebook pages. Two people in a car at a stop light, both looking down at their phones.

On one hand, access to social media does allow us to keep track of and communicate with all those neighbors, friends and co-workers that have moved away. And to track down old classmates and distant relatives The problem lies in spending so much time in front of the monitor that we miss out on what’s happening in real life right in front of us.  Conversations online have replaced conversations in the here-and-now.

I remember when the Internet first became available. There was a lot of talk in our industry about “virtual” tradeshows eliminating the real thing. We were all going to attend these virtual shows from our desks in our offices, no one was going to go to real shows and our industry was going to die. So much for those doomsayers.

So, I’m looking at this latest research on social separation and trying not to become one of those guys that says this is the end of our culture as we know it and this is the end of face-to-face marketing and we’re all going shrivel up and go away. Perhaps the pendulum of social interaction has just reached its outer apex and it will start to return to a more balanced position in the not-too-distant future. Or, perhaps technology really has passed human interaction.

See you on the show floor.

Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry 30 years, both as a corporate tradeshow manager and exhibit house executive. He is a partner in the tradeshow and event marketing firm Reveal. He can be reached at jobermeyer@revealexhibits.com.

Posted in As the Saw Turns
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