UPDATED 18:09 EDT / MARCH 11 2020

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Will digital communications fill the gap as coronavirus sends millions home?

Digital communication as a productive medium is about to get the ultimate test.

As the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, spreads around the globe, numerous large events and industry gatherings are being cancelled. Companies and schools are sending employees and students home, creating a dynamic where online communications will become more relied upon than ever before.

J. Metz, with a doctorate in mass communication technology, has been analyzing digital communications and its impact on society for many years. In his analysis, Metz has learned that while the digital medium can facilitate communications on a scale never before seen, there are going to be limitations as well.

“There are realities that cannot be met in the same way as face to face,” Metz said. “How do I get people to feel like they’ve been heard? When they’re in a face to face situation, they know they’ve been heard.”

Metz spoke with John Furrier, host of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s livestreaming studio, at theCUBE’s studio in Palo Alto, California. They discussed how different conversational interfaces are facilitated by technology tools, the function of time in determining the success of digital communications and group dynamics online.

Software regulates communication

A key factor in today’s current health crisis is that people will have to rely on software-driven conferencing tools and online chat forums to meet their needs. These forms of online communication come with a regulated set of interfaces that will dictate whether mutual dialogue is effective or not.

“Think about the way we stack conversations digitally versus in person,” Metz said. “When we have conversations in a face-to-face environment, it is a lot more dynamic, a lot more chaotic. The adaptive system of the group emerges in its own particular pattern, and that system does exist inside of the digital world, but it is highly regulated by the software and platform that we use.”

The way that various online platforms set or meet expectations of time plays a significant role as well, according to Metz. If an online video session experiences a five-second delay, it can be disastrous to effective communications. But if someone sends a written message and receives an answer back in 15 seconds, it’s considered a resounding success.

“Twitter has a different engagement level than LinkedIn,” Metz noted. “We have a more paced, turn-taking approach. Our expectations for how time plays a role in the development of our relationships makes a huge difference.”

Although a number of the communications technologies being used today are still relatively new, the dynamics of group involvement and interaction are many centuries old. The kind of medium used will make a difference, but the success of group engagement will rely on a number of factors that predate the digital age. Some groups will stay together, and some will not.

“The social development of groups is something that’s been studied since the 1840s,” Metz said. “When you look back at the basic ground rules of how groups form, they really haven’t changed all that much. Understanding the nature of the people involved, the marriage with the actual content that they want, and the medium that provides that facilitation is what will provide the result that the entire group, digital or otherwise, lives or dies.”

Here’s the complete video interview, one of many CUBE Conversations from SiliconANGLE and theCUBE:

Image: geralt/Pixabay

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