Is Social Networking Really Social?

This last week I attended the GigaOM Structure conference in San Francisco, California.  I was fortunate to be invited to a VIP reception where I had the opportunity to meet and discuss Cloud computing challenges with people who are both technically gifted and passionate about Cloud computing.

However, while attending the Opening Day 1 Keynotes, I realized that “one of these things is not like the other” and I was a dinosaur in the room.  Flanked by iPads, Android Tablets, iPhones, and Laptops, I was sitting in the auditorium with an ordinary pen and notepad.

In fact, I felt like I was one of the few people who were actually listening to the presenters.  Most people had TweetDeck open with 10 or more Twitter feeds or were furiously posting away in Facebook.  Sure some were taking notes within Evernote, OneNote, or Google Documents, but a large number of people were simply preoccupied within their own social networks.

Does anyone listen anymore?  Are we all simply consumers of information rather than content providers?  Do you really have to Tweet every word or idea that is presented to you?

My goal was to learn from the presenters and disseminate information within the context of professional life.  My attention and focus was on understanding what the presenters were trying to convey to the audience while looking for deeper meaning or context.  Rather than feverishly try to capture every word the presenters were saying, a simple abstract recorded within my notepad was all I needed to find meaning while enjoying their presentations.

In fact, half of the fun was watching the interactions between the presenters and the audience.  The subtle jabs at the competitors or industry leaders with a simple grin or non-verbal action.  Did my fellow Tweeters notice these subtleties as well?

In the end, I worry that social networking is not social at all and is taking away the very essence of what makes us human.  Tweeting, SMS messaging, Facebooking, etc. has its place, but nothing replaces a real conversation, handshake, hug, or smile.