Why Facebook Hasn't Killed Face-to-Face

Social technologies and networks have driven demand for meet-ups like Social Media Breakfast

One of the greatest misunderstandings about the rise of social media platforms is that it will replace the need for being physically present at places and events. After all, it is far cheaper contacting somebody via Twitter, Internet Messaging, Facebook or Skype than to meet them in the flesh.

Now that social technologies have gone mobile, your iPad, iPhone, android or symbian smartphone allows you to plug in and participate in conversations 24 by 7. Need richer levels of interaction? Simply get a mobile broadband device or tether your 3.5G phone to your laptop and you can share documents, wikis, blog posts, presentation slides, spreadsheets and more.

With the development of increasingly realistic 3D technologies, one can also visit virtual worlds or tour exotic locales without leaving one's chair. Feeling peckish? You can order practically anything and everything you wish online - from custom-tailored suits and shirts, gourmet food, wines and household toiletries.

In case you do not already know, global online participation is growing and growing - reaching a high of 1.6 billion users in 2008. Singapore has the privilege of being one of the world's geekiest nation, with skyrocketing numbers of online users.

But hang on a minute. Global travel patterns haven't quite declined. On the contrary, they are spiking up more than ever before, especially this part of the world.

Recent local reports have also suggested that visits to attractions and museums haven't quite declined. Last year, for instance, more than 2.8 million visitors - an alltime record - visited NHB's museums in Singapore.

Retail sales, mostly transacted in brick and mortar establishments, have been growing strongly in Singapore following last year's downturn. The anecdotal sprouting of F&B outlets, shopping malls and retail shops in recent years have also gone unabated.

So what is happening here?

Seth Godin articulated it very well, expressing that the "experience I have with you as a customer or a friend is far more important than a few random bits flying by on the screen".

The desire to see somebody face-to-face now becomes more coveted than ever before. With so many virtual friends, fans and followers, people find the need to physically connect both personally and professionally even more valuable than ever before. The alienating effects of working alone behind a notebook or SMSing on a smartphone is more than compensated by meeting the person in the flesh.

The profusion and glut of online information - likened to a bursting waterhose by Steve Rubel - also mean that people will crave something authentic, real and physical. Digital bits can't quite replace physical atoms, especially when it comes to stimulating one's senses of sight, scent, sound, touch, and taste.

What used to be abundant (physical goods and services) are now relatively scarce compared to the gazillion number of websites, blogs, forum posts, photos, games and other things one can access online - most of them free. Hence, the sensory and carnal pleasures take greater precedence over the virtual ones.

You can brew a Starbucks ground coffee, enjoy a bird's eye view of the Grand Canyon, or ogle over the latest shoes from Jimmy Choo in the comfort of your home. However, it can never replicate the multi-sensory experience of a Starbucks Cafe, the awe of actually seeing the world's largest natural ravine, or the physical pleasures of pampering your feet in an exquisite crystal encrusted footwear.

The next time somebody tells your that setting up a blog, Facebook fan page, Twitter account, or Youtube channel will jeopardise your physical business, ask him or her to shove it. Real hard.

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