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Social networking cannot replace socializing for lawyers

Author and journalist, Jonah Lehrer, who writes on psychology and neuroscience, has a good read for lawyers in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal on why social networking cannot replace socializing. (sub req’ed)

With all the buzz about Google+ being the greatest thing since sliced bread, Lehrer takes us back to earth. Despite claims that technology can replace face-to-face interactions, history has not born this out.

First there was the telephone, which was supposed to reduce demand for communication in person. The same was said of faxes and then email. In the late 1990s, when dot-com fever was at its peak, many technology enthusiasts predicted that cities would soon become obsolete, since we no longer needed to share sidewalks and cafes. Cheap bandwidth would mean the end of expensive office space.

But the data show that the opposite has occurred: Cities and face-to-face interaction have become even more valuable. As Edward Glaeser, an economist at Harvard, notes in his recent book “The Triumph of the City,” business travel has dramatically increased since the invention of email. Attendance at business conferences has spiked since the invention of video-conferencing. Businesses still pay hefty rents to be downtown.

A similar lesson emerges from a recent study led by Isaac Kohane, a researcher at Harvard Medical School. After analyzing more than 35,000 different peer-reviewed papers and mapping the location of every co-author, he found that scientists located closer together produced papers of significantly higher quality, at least as measured by the number of subsequent citations. In fact, the best research was consistently done when scientists were working within roughly 30 feet of each other–that is, when they didn’t need to interact via screens..

We need real life social interaction.

There is simply too much value in face-to-face contact, in all the body language and implicit information that doesn’t translate to the Internet. (As Mr. Glaeser notes, “Millions of years of evolution have made us into machines for learning from the people next to us.”) Perhaps that’s why Google+ traffic is already declining and the number of American Facebook users has contracted in recent months.

Still use the Internet for social networking, just don’t use the net to replace old-fashioned socializing. Reconsider the purpose of online networking, per Lehrer.

…[T]he winner of the social network wars won’t be the network that feels the most realistic. Instead of being a substitute for old-fashioned socializing, this network will focus on becoming a better supplement, amplifying the advantages of talking in person.

Bingo. Supplementing and amplifying. I’ll add a third word. Accelerating.

As a lawyer, look to social networking on the Internet as a an accelerator and amplifier that supplements the down and dirty old school way of building relationships. Getting together face to face.

Heed Lehrer’s words.

It would be so convenient, after all, if we didn’t have to travel to conferences or commute to the office or meet up with friends. But those inefficiencies are necessary. We can’t fix them because they aren’t broken.

Personally I have never traveled as much as I have the last eight years. Why? Because I have been networking with so many people via the Internet.

The Internet has accelerated and amplified my networking. I have met more people. I have exchanged ideas with them. I’ve learned about their backgrounds. I’ve come to know what floats their boat.

But when it comes to doing larger business deals with people and building long term business relationships nothing can replace face to face.

For those of you blogging and using other social media are you picking up the phone and asking the people you meet online to get together for coffee or lunch? Are you going to conferences and events to meet the people you’ve met online? Are you getting to know prospective clients and referral sources in a real and meaningful way?

If not, don’t expect the Internet to be your savior when it comes to business development. Online social networking cannot replace socializing.