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Election Day 2012 provided an emotional rollercoaster ride for virtually everyone. What I found interesting about this was not just the emotions, but the virtual aspects of it all.

People I've known for over 40 years literally butted heads in 140 characters or less. Rants, rages, and rhetoric filled my social media accounts by the second! The brash barrage of often sarcastic or searing messages kept coming and coming.

Here's a question: Have you ever had a Virtual Argument?

Amazingly, many people posted that they will be cleaning up their Friends Lists or otherwise, deleting the person or people they once called Friends. No matter what side of the political fence you stood on, no matter where you stand on the issues, you could witness venomous attacks from people who once won championships together, went to grade school together, dated, or at least somehow appeared to be best friends to the naked eye. When it came to friendships, once upon a time, there was enough evidence to convict.

Back in high school, I remember many people closing out their written words in my yearbook with the phrase, "Stay like you are, don't ever change!" I used to make a joke about still wearing the same clothes for all these years because of what they wrote - still haven't changed! We were young back then. No doubt we had to change, and usually for the better (let's hope!).

So what fuels all this fervor? One could list the issues of note within seconds. We can fact-check to our heart's content. We can quote sound bites from video clips, news stories, and hearsay or even first-hand and light a short fuse on our Friends in an instant. Why is that?

Thinking back on the old days, I remember sitting outside late at night talking to my Friends about life. We talked about our dreams. We talked about what we wanted to be when we grew up. We talked about who we'd marry. We talked about that personal vision we each had. And you know what? It didn't matter what you said back then! Why? I think it is because we showed a higher level of respect to each other back then, among other things.

So I pose some questions:

Can you have a truly meaningful conversation in 140 characters or less?

Can you fully understand another person's perspective when you're not with them sitting or standing face-to-face?

Two of my Friends had a knock-down, drag-out battle the other day on Facebook. This War of Words did not end well. (Again, I'm just as guilty in my assumptions here as I'm basing this not only on the fact that I too have not discussed this face-to-face with either of them. And, I don't know if they've made amends over the phone or in person either.) I can say with certainty that several posts arrived after the apparent damage was already done.

For example, the fact that someone reached out and said that they thought all of my Friend's posts were "respectful" and the some of the other people's responses as "disrespectful" leads me to believe that we have a huge gap in communication these days. Again, I'm not arguing the political issues or candidates here; I'm talking about whether we rely too much on technology when a face-to-face conversation is in order.

At first, I was shocked by all this. I've known these two Friends for over 30 years! We won championships together. We had strong bonds that brought out the best in each of us. We fought to win and left it all on the playing field. But then, in just a few characters or posts, the friendship started to erode, and then vaporize.

People all over the world are scratching their heads right now wondering who their true Friends are.

You see, I'm a strong believer that social media creates some barriers that we need to learn to overcome.

For example:

  • How do you ascertain the context in which statements are made?
  • How do you understand the intent of messages on social media?
  • Since you cannot actually see the person (other than their Profile picture) how do you compensate for the inability to see body language or other social cues?
  • Social Media has made it easy to connect or even RECONNECT in many cases. How do you fill what I like to call the RECONNECTION GAP? (Meaning, I haven't spoken to you in years and my frame of reference is that time we stayed up all night partying!)
  • When do you decide to pick up the phone or meet face-to-face to discuss tough or controversial issues? If you do, how or do you circle back to the thread of intense posts to let all the others know you discussed, resolved, or agreed to disagree? (I bet nobody has ever done that though!)
  • What about the fact that there are people out there who know how to use social media for just this purpose? Not just the "Haters", Nay-Sayers, or negative people out there, but those groups with a specific agenda.
  • Are our sensitivity settings set too high?
  • How do people do as Paul Harvey used to say and get, "The rest of the story"?

Yes, the social commentary will continue. People will continue to misquote, misinterpret, misrepresent, and otherwise miss the point. And remember, the ability to do such things is not exclusive to any single person, party, or people. We're all guilty of such acts with or without social media as the primary communications vehicle.

My hope is that we make strides to improve the way we communicate and use old-fashioned conversation even more. We need to establish better protocols, whether formal or informal, as to when it's a better idea to pick up the phone and just talk, or to meet face-to-face in an honest effort to debate, clear the air, or just reconnect a friendship. I don't know about you, but my closest Friends are people that we share the ability to discuss or debate a topic or issue without offending each other. We have a healthy respect for each other's point of view even if we don't agree!

I'll leave you with one last question: Is what you post worth the price of losing a Friend?