international social media

I recently read the fascinating book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (highly recommended) and he provides some astounding examples of how subtle differences in human communication styles contribute to epic failures.

People from different regions have many subtle communication habits that combine to create breakdowns when styles collide. So should we expect this to happen as an everyday occurrence in our online world?

Inevitable cultural collisions

Gladwell’s book highlights research revealing the vast depth of these differences and the catastrophic implications when there are even small misunderstandings.  One case study illustrated how cultural communication differences resulted in a tragic plane crash when a South Korean style that is deferential to authority clashed with the style of busy New York air traffic controllers bossing people around. In fact, Gladwell points out that regional communication patterns alone might be the root cause for many deadly accidents.

I was thinking about how this remarkable observation applies to an online world where regional barriers have been removed and we have the opportunity to have daily communications with people from all over the world. If catastrophes occur in the highly-controlled world of air traffic control, what are the implications when people from other cultures try to connect and understand each other through tweets and posts completely lacking in context, tone, and cross-cultural understanding? Are we entering a world where international  collisions are the norm?

I’ve written about the optimism I have about the Internet being a unifying force for understanding, especially if we are talking in the global language of “Facebook.”  But after reading Outliers, I began to wonder about the massive disconnects that must be occurring … but do we even realize it?

We’re all ambassadors

About 50 percent of the readers of {grow} are from outside the United States and I am absolutely paranoid about offending somebody. Before publishing any post I try to sift through any obscure terms or colloquialisms that might be misconstrued or misunderstood. I try to filter my “humor” to some extent and examine my posts through a global lens before hitting the “publish” button.

But here’s the reality. I am almost certainly confusing and offending people no matter what I do because I’m not sure if there is really an effective way to “write global.”

As we propel ourselves into a world of increasing global communication collisions, don’t you think we could all benefit from a course on how to be effective Internet citizens?  It seems like anybody who signs on for a Facebook account or a WordPress blog site should be required to understand what they are getting into.

If the Internet is going to truly serve as a force for unity instead of catastrophe, shouldn’t we all take the time to figure out how to do it well? And what does that even mean? How do we create some buffer of understanding around us to minimize the inevitable cross-cultural collisions?

The reference to Outliers is an affiliate link.