Today, in order to embrace social distancing here in the UK, my family took part in both Mother’s Day and my sister’s birthday celebrations by communicating via telepresence. What struck me was how present everyone was. Denied physical contact by this pandemic we become more accommodating. My children put down Minecraft, my dad wasn’t staring at eBay, my sister wasn’t on Facebook, I wasn’t on Instagram, my wife stopped messaging her group of other mothers, and — perhaps for the first time — my mum wasn’t in the kitchen cooking lunch for all of us. Instead we just connected.
I contemplated yesterday about how this pandemic might change the world for good: I realised that I had connected with so many people via social media that I’ve never had the pleasure to meet. My wife — as I mentioned — has had an incredibly strong network of friends who have shared motherhood and at times been more present in each other’s lives than an in-person relationship might have achieved — you can’t invite your most personal best friend over into your bedroom at 2am whilst you try to breastfeed as your husband snores in the bed beside you naked. Despite all this as a society we discount and seemingly devalue the remote connection in relation to the physical. We too often view our weekly screen-time statistics with private guilt rather than openly share that record of the time we spend forging connections online. We willingly accept (and then brush off) chastisement rather than seek to invite more informed discussion about the use of our technology addiction with our older generations. We do this despite the fact that if we could only connect at those moments they’re the very generation who might — with the most constrained mobility, now more than ever — benefit the most.
In our business lives we face different obstacles whilst similarly failing to address. In staunchly traditional ways we still put highest value on the face-to-face — the handshake. When meeting in person is impractical we awkwardly take part in the video call only to frequently dismiss it once it’s over, in turn preventing the medium from gaining the value it deserves. Perhaps we do this because, when we actually have to converse about the matter at hand with real purpose — ignoring the pleasantries that we might exchange easily — we expose that all too often there was in fact no need to meet up to discuss the matter at all. We — all too frequently — have little of real genuine value to say on a subject that could not have been summed up succinctly over e-mail or a short call. Once this is said the video call breaks down and hollow pleasantries — without the physical presence to imbue them with than more value than they merit — are exposed as exactly that. Participants drift off in desire for connection elsewhere. We travel great distances in an attempt to connect in-person. Often however we forge deeper connections using technology during the journey. Too often those physical meetings — when they do have genuine value — only reaffirm the connection we’ve already made.
I hope that as a result of what we’re going through right now we have an opportunity to better consider, reevaluate and improve how we live our lives, how we best spend our time, and how, through honest discussion can seek to leverage technology to better connect with what’s most important to us.