Are we losing the ability to connect with people on a deep level? Is technology preventing us from making meaningful, personal connections with each other?
At least in the business world, I would say yes. Not only are we becoming a less “personal touch” society, we are becoming a less helpful society.
Years ago, before mobile phones, before email, and even before voicemail, we conducted business either face-to-face or by phone. Working with customers or handling internal business issues, you had to speak to someone. Yes, certain people, primarily executives, could hide behind their secretary, avoiding pesky sales people, customer complaints, or high-maintenance clients and employees. For the most part, though, we got to know each other – employees, colleagues, clients, customers, and vendors – by visiting face-to-face or voice-to-voice.
Voicemail was our first big step away from personal touch. We pretended (and still do) to want to talk to people, but our actions said (and still do) otherwise. “Your call is very important to me so please leave your name and number and I’ll get back to you as quickly as possible.” Really? My call is very important to you? For many people, that is simply not true.
A more truthful message would be, “Please leave your name and number and I’ll try to get back to you. If you don’t receive a return call within 48 hours, then I don’t want to talk to you.”
Our next step down the avoid-people rabbit hole was email. Why talk to someone when I could simply send a note? Of course, in some ways, email improved our communication by allowing “conversations” even when someone wasn’t available by phone. The flipside, though, is we now get so many emails, we have little time to do much anything else. How many messages are in your Inbox right now?
Next up – mobile phones and texting. Now, not only are we receiving short messages, this technology has ruined our ability to spell.
Today, we live and work in a world of Facebook and LinkedIn, two fantastic web services which allow us to stay in touch with friends and business associates. One unintended consequence of these technologies is we now send happy birthday wishes and congratulations on the promotion with just a touch of the button. "Done. I just said congratulations and showed my good friend that I rally care about them." Really? I would argue this is simply another step down that impersonal rabbit hole.
Yet for all of the impersonal aspects of technology, it can help people stay connected. As I write this blog, I’m traveling to Kansas State University with my wife and our dear friend Mattie to visit our son. Our friend Mattie has lived overseas for ten years and credits technology, particularly Facebook and Skype, for allowing her to stay closely connected with friends here at home.
So I’m certainly not bashing technology nor do I wish for a time without email and smart phones (truth be known, I get really annoyed when wifi isn’t working on a plane – and I didn’t even have that option a couple of years ago!).
But what would life be like if, rather than just hitting the Like button or sending an automated “Congrats” note, we did it the old-fashioned way by actually calling our friend to say, “Congratulations on your new job! Have a few minutes to catch up?"
Darren K. Ford
I've enjoyed a great career. Worked in many different industries with great coworkers and customers. I talk to a lot of people while drinking a lot of coffee. I read constantly. From all of this, I have much to say.