Consuming media online, it occurred to me recently, is a lot like conducting a long-distance relationship – the basic message is passed on, but so much additional information is lost.
In a long-distance relationship, facial expressions, body language and our tone of voice, are sacrificed once you’ve typed out your thoughts and hit ‘Send’. Without access to these cues, communication is inherently more difficult. There is a reason why distance is so often cited as a cause of relationship breakdown despite the benefits of modern communication technologies.
Today, news media outlets are trying to force us to consume our news in sound bites and bite size chunks via whatever smart device we have on us at the time.Recently, I was reading an article online that seemed unfocused and chaotic. I couldn’t understand its point until much later when I picked up the actual paper and saw it again over a few pages: within its layout, the placement of pictures, the headline, all gave me the additional cues I needed to give me the context of the article. It made sense.
While I like digital media and the increased content it is able to deliver, most of the time the online world lacks the context needed to provide all the information we need. The virtual world simply lacks the depth and sensory richness of real life. If real life is high definition, surround sound; virtual life is the low-resolution, single-speaker sound bite.
The virtual world simply lacks the depth and sensory richness of real life…
Noted British neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield (she’s also a member of the House of Lords and, interestingly, was once the ‘Thinker in Residence’ for the South Australian government) argues that while technology presents us with the illusion of choice and opportunity, it actually limits our thinking, imaginations and actions.
She believes today’s screen technologies are transforming our minds – literally rewiring our brains – in unprecedented ways. While it is vitally important to be part of the online world in business today, and some aspects of the eye health profession have been able to find a niche online, we need to remember that as a profession, we have a real world advantage.
Online stores and apps may offer a customer the ability to virtually ‘try on’ frames: a useful tool, no doubt. But no app will ever replicate the feel of the frame, the weight, the texture, how they look when the wearer turns this way and that. It can’t give that appreciative nod of approval. It lacks so many of the important cues available to a person who is actually in your store.
Online consultations? They may be necessary and very effective in some situations. But can all those subtle clues be detected over webcam or via a smart phone? Sure a website may be able to provide information to diagnose – even cure – a range of illnesses and ailments, but it can’t offer understanding, empathy or compassion.
The virtual world has a valuable place. But it is good to know that, like relationships, ‘caring’ professions such as eye health will always thrive better in the real world.