Those of you who have had the opportunity to ride on an underground rail system, commonly referred to as the tube, will be familiar with the warning to passengers to, “Mind the gap.” In explanation, there is a space between platform and carriage. When the doors open and you step in or out, make sure you don’t put your foot in it (the gap).

I am an avid proponent of social networking.

The purpose of publishing a book with Sue Trollip on mastering the basics, Going Global – Technology made simple (available on Amazon and through local independent outlets in South Africa) http://pennym.matternatter.com/books/ was to make sure that everyone can benefit from improved communication, for example Google, Facebook, Twitter etcetera. There are minions out there who are intimidated by technology – you can help by purchasing a copy for those you know.

Imagine then how shattered I was to discover that there is a gap in this context which is hardly recognised. I am referring to the communications gap.

“What?” I hear you say, “In this world of instant messaging, how can there possibly be a gap?”

A basic skills list doesn’t normally include reading between the lines as a requirement. Some are lousy at it, others pretty discerning. The gap is what lies between the message sender and the message receiver. It is fraught with questions, wonderings and assumptions; the imperceptible body language of what people don’t say.

Let me explain. Facebook is a fantastic way to keep up with friends, at a time when it suits us. It should never be seen as a replacement for live connection, but an enhancement to existing relationships. The problems come when I meet Facebook friends at a social event.

I tend to forget the fact that some may or may not follow me. In response to the usual, “How are you? How are things going?” or, “What are you up to?” I begin to tell my story. The followers start to glance at something or someone behind me, smile and politely excuse themselves. I used to feel rejected or uninteresting until I realised that they knew all this and only wanted to know what they hadn’t read about me on Facebook (actually quite a lot).

The reverse of this happens when people assume that I have read all about them on Facebook. They start talking as if I know what they are talking about, and some are most put out when I express my confusion. I begin to think that maybe I have forgotten so much about them when, in fact, I haven’t read it in the first place.

Another hazard is the sound of silence. Simon and Garfunkel knew all about it (Sounds of Silence album released in 1966), and, having read some of Behind the Door by Mandy Wiener and Barry Bateman, I am convinced, that Oscar Pistorius was phobic about it too. I can relate. It’s a disease that strikes when you least expect it.

Call me old-fashioned, but I was brought up to respond to communications. All the way through my business career, I adopted and expected such courtesy. The problem with that is that it doesn’t quite fit into this instant world we live in. Yes, there are such things as read receipts for emails, but what if your correspondent has to wade through two hundred e-mails before they get to yours? Or maybe their network connection is down or they’re out of gigabytes. Okay, so there’s WhatsApp. That’s even worse – you send a message out and there is no response.

You are left wondering if the person is alright, still alive, had their phone stolen, you have offended them, asked a question they can’t answer, or worse, they’ve removed you from their contacts list. I have to breathe deeply and excuse them for not responding immediately. After all, they might be on the loo, at the movies, out to dinner or asleep. Thankfully, I am not as paranoid as some who make headlines by stalking. I can quite see how frequent messages asking for a progress report might be creepy.

Let your communication be clear and harmless. Excuse people for tardy replies or clueless questions and responses. Bring them up to speed, but get on the same page at the beginning.

When somebody communicates with you expecting a reply, respond as soon as possible. If there is a gap, bridge it with reassurance as soon as you can. If your message has you talking to the darkness, relax, the silence may not last long. Never assume that your Facebook friend has read your posts, and never allow them to assume you have read theirs. Set clear boundaries for stalkers.

In short then, Mind the Gap.

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