While I was reading some of Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point this morning, I continuously tried to connect what I was reading to how it relates to “social” media. Gladwell talks about the specialized human trait some people posses that allows them to draw others into an interaction by persuading them into their own communication rhythms and synchronies. Skilled musicians and public speakers are able to connect and engage with their audiences in an uncanny by infecting others with the emotional tone they are expressing through their performances. Furthermore, when two people talk, motor mimicry occurs. This is the way in which we relate to others in face to face interactions—expressing and experiencing empathy. Mimicry is how we pass on emotions to other individuals and infect them with our own emotions. I think this is a large part of what Christakis touches on when he talks about the hidden connections between social networks—the contagiousness of emotions such as happiness and anger.
I also thought about is how much of this “mimicry” is missed in an online world. How often do we miss the opportunity to authentically express our emotions to others, and what happens when these emotions are unintentionally misconveyed? It reminded me of a Key and Peele clip (please excuse explicit language):
There are many situations where I have misinterpreted the tone of a text or email message, and I inaccurately interpreted the emotional context of the message I received. I’m also very aware of my sarcastic humor, and am conscious of the fact that it could be misconveyed in an online context. Reflecting on this, I try to add a large number of emoticons to my text messages to help convey emotional tone of a text, and keep the authenticity of how I communicate with others. This is powerful in assuring how my words are interpreted.
Taking it one step further, it makes me think about how I go about recruiting activities as a college swim coach. Initial conversations take place over email for most interactions, and phone calls pick up starting in the summer before a prospect’s senior year in high school. For the furthest distance recruits that don’t have the opportunity to visit campus, I often suggest FaceTime sessions so that I can better get to know the person, and they get to know me. As I reflected on how we express emotions and connect with other people online, I thought about the power of more face to face interactions. FaceTime sessions will potentially giving me a better ability to express positive emotion regarding Penn and Penn Swimming to influence recruit’s decisions earlier in the recruiting process—before they even step foot on campus. The ability to positively influence people without them consciously being aware was also touched on in The Tipping Point. In the study of the 1984 presidential campaign, the positive emotions expressed by newscaster Jennings when talking about Reagan caused a larger number of ABC News watchers to vote for the candidate.
How often do we miss out on the important emotional context of a phrase online, and how can we make sure our feelings are accurately reflected? Clearly, the power of visuals when we convey messages online are important, and Facebook, Snap Chat, and Instagram often allow for the visuals hat can help drive the emotional message. But for Twitter, Text Messaging, and Email, we should be even more conscious of whether we are accurately portraying what we mean and how we feel.