We Used to Wait – Thoughts on Constant Connection

The song “We Used to Wait” by Arcade Fire reflects on the feelings of anticipation specifically in sending a love letter and waiting for a response and more generally in the concept of delayed gratification that used to be the norm.  The main concept is that anticipation of something good can itself be a positive, pleasurable experience. The rise of ubiquitous internet, texting and social media has all but eliminated the concept of waiting for anything.  Immediate access to information is a hugely positive thing but are there unintended and unexpected consequences to this on the way people relate to each other personally and professionally.

One example of this phenomenon is the concept of a high school reunion.  In an age without FaceBook, you might go 10 years without seeing your classmates.  There would be a curiosity and anticipation of seeing how people had changed and learning where their lives had taken them.  Now, people are sharing all the minutia of their lives with all of their acquaintances.  You see baby pictures, beginnings and ends of relationships, career changes and tragedies.  You know the major events of many people’s lives who you may have barely met.  A high school reunion could still be a great opportunity to reconnect with old friends, but the real excitement and curiosity of reconnecting with people is largely a thing of the past.  This is just one example of something that extends into many other relationships as well.  Talking to a friend used to be an opportunity to learn about their life and experiences.  Now people are armed with the highlights of each other’s lives and don’t need to have a conversation to get this information.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it some ways it seems like the more access we have to each other’s lives, the less personal and special these connections feel.

There is also a concept of self-discrepancy monitoring that refers to people’s tendency to compare their own lives to the lives of others.  Some would argue that social media has distorted this mechanism.  Constant access to information about other’s lives allows people to subconsciously compare their own lives to what is shared with them on social media.  The problem here is that people tend to share the exciting, positive, upbeat portions of their life with others.  If you compare your total existence to the one-sided account that is presented by your FaceBook friends, it is easy to fall short.  This may increase feelings of inadequacy and, in some cases, depression.

As stated above, the immediacy of communication has conditioned people to expect to be able to reach out and contact people at any time.  Gone are the days where you would leave your home and basically be unreachable until you returned.  Of course, you can turn your phone off and achieve this same effect, but the feeling of being truly alone and disconnected is quite alien to most people living in the current social media dominated landscape.  There have even been a number of studies on social media addiction.  The immediacy and proliferation of all of this access and information has conditioned some people to have a very hard time stepping away from the internet and to experience withdrawal like symptoms when they do not have access to social media.

This expectation of immediate feedback extends greatly to customers’ interactions with businesses.  Customer service used to take place on the phone or in person and in private.  Now, customers can use forums like twitter or FaceBook to publicly leave feedback or ask for assistance.  If customers are unsatisfied with service, they don’t wait very long to begin publicly airing their grievances.  Their expectation is that companies will immediately respond in order to make things right.  To that end, many companies have specific social media response teams that are tasked to make immediate contact and begin to address concerns customers bring up on FaceBook or Twitter.  The speed that negative reviews and feedback can spread with makes it vitally important that companies make speed a priority in their responses to social media feedback.  Customers will not accept anything less.

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