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Bits and Bytes vs. f2f: Which is Better?

October 22, 2009

Updated October 3, 2013

BEST Post As a Baby Boomer born in the mid fifties I became accustomed to using computers at work. I recall my first ‘laptop’ at work around 1990. I was the first of the managers in the regional office to get one, and it was a heavy sucker – some 30 pounds. It was fun lugging it home.

A lot changed over the next 20 years in the workplace on the technology front. And the last few years have produced even more innovations in how people make use of technology. The massive growth of social media platforms in a very short time frame has indeed been impressive. It would be fascinating to be able to transport oneself into the future – say 10 years – to see how we’ll be working and connecting with one another.

With all that said, I got into blogging almost five years ago as a way to improve my understanding of social media, and also to extend my love for writing and sharing with others into a broader dimension. As I climbed the learning curve I had the unsettling realization that something that I’d always valued and had a lot of experience in was steadily evaporating: face-to-face relationships.

What I find surprising is that very little is being written on blogs or in the print media about the growth of virtual communication and networking at the expense of human face-to-face (f2f) interaction. So in this post, I’ll present some personal observations, views from experts and a couple of questions to stir up some debate.

One person I admire a lot is Pamela Slim, author of the new book Escape from Cubicle Nation. This superb book has been out for a few years. Slim talks about how to plan your escape from bureaucracy and how to become your own boss. She shares her experiences and life lessons on what to do and what not to do. In addition to advice on entrepreneurial life, she also has great advice on getting involved in e-commerce. Similarly John Jantsch, author of Duct Tape Marketing has invaluable advice for those wishing to get into e-selling.

Pam and John are but two authors who write blogs and articles on entrepreneurship. They just happen to be very good at what they do. But cyberspace is full of pseudo experts wanting to sell you their method to hit it rich while reclining in your armchair. Hey, with a laptop and Internet connection anyone can make money through bits and bytes. Or can they?

It’s important to remember that virtual networking, and more specifically the use of selling products such as e-books online, is still in its infancy. Human face-to-face interactions go back tens of thousands of years. And in more modern times they’ve served as the backbone of industrial development, indeed innovation.

If only it were so easy to create a blog or website and then start selling your wares almost immediately. Hell with traditional marketing and sales efforts. F2F? What’s that? Those old methods are for Luddites. Now it’s all about selling to people you’ll never lay eyes on.

Time for a sidebar…

Henry Mintzberg, a leading management thinker, is one of the few who has conducted empirical research on what managers actually do. His first research was done in the early 1970s and then again during the mid nineties. His newest book Managing, a must for those serious students of leadership, is long overdue. Mintzberg’s insights into the daily informal interactions of managers are insightful. For example, he talks in one chapter about the various folklores of managing. One is the folklore that managers prefer formal information systems. In reality, they rely heavily on informal encounters, such as face-to-face and email.

Now I don’t wish to argue with a heavyweight like Mintzberg, but I will add that one trait that I have been observing is that despite the ‘busyness’ of those in managerial positions and their hectic schedules, there’s a growing tendency for some managers to become cave dwellers, hiding out in their offices to deal with the deluge of emails.

Managers who have become enraptured with email risk losing touch with the reality of managing and leading their staff when they naively believe that they are in ‘touch’ with what’s going on. The challenge is figuring out how to balance a high-tech/soft people touch. Unfortunately, many managers choose the path of bits and bytes at the expense of ever hoping to achieve a leadership status through a loyal followership.

The importance of human interaction remains a vital aspect of managerial work. And I would insist that it is – or should be – a key part of how each of us function on a daily basis. Are there naysayers on this?

Back to the main story…

When it comes to entrepreneurship there’s a fascinating trend underway. With the recent advent of creating businesses based on Internet selling, there’s a huge amount to be learned. And one has only to look at the avalanche of bits and bytes inundating us on Twitter and other new social media technologies to realize that a Pandora’s Box has been unleashed. We’re being so inundated with data that our attention spans are collapsing under the weight.

I personally believe that there’s a huge potential to find a way to create a complementary relationship between f2f and bits and bytes. The challenges include determining where you fit in e-commerce, how to create and maintain a sustained focus on your value-added place, and how to maximize the use of face-to-face relationships.

Two questions I’ll throw out to readers are:

Are baby Boomers better positioned to integrate the opposing forces of f2f and e-commerce than Generations X and Y?

What can these generations learn from one another?

So in the end, what’s my conclusion of which is better overall, face-to-face relationship building or virtual networking when it comes to building or growing your business? The answer is simply,

… It All Depends.

…But I would suggest to explore finding your own optimal mix between the two and to not let those in cyberspace dictate what you should do.

I find the question ‘Why are we here?’ typically human. I’d suggest ‘Are we here?’ would be the more logical choice
Mr. Spock, Star Trek

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 23, 2009 5:09 am

    Technology has its consequences and we have no choice but to adopt or be left behind. The impersonality of our current cyber trend is just beginning. The world has become dwarfed by the internet, but I believe that the old but reliable system of face-to-face interaction will slowly find its way. 🙂

    • October 23, 2009 12:15 pm

      I agree that we’re just beginning. It’ll be interesting to see where we’re at in 10 years, or even just five years from now.

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