Is “the world of faces” dissonant from “the world without faces”? This question is posed in a New York Times article on the social problem created by our ability to communicate directly with others through social media without actually seeing or hearing them. For example, a part-time delivery driver in England was recently sentenced to 18 weeks in prison for tweeting violent messages to a member of Parliament. Have you seen instances of a shocking lack of social inhibition in communications sent over email or social media?
Although the focus of the Times article is on the moral problem of unethical behavior that can emerge through internet connections, the “inability to recognize shared humanity with another” when we are unable to see faces also creates a problem for social research. One of the great appeals of qualitative methods like participant observation and intensive interviewing has been the ability to learn about people while experiencing their facial expressions, emotions, and tone of voice. How much do we lose when we try to understand social behavior through analyzing emails, “tweets,” or Facebook posts? That in itself is a great topic for a social science investigation!