Human Connection: The Achilles Heel of Technology

Who would argue that technological advances have not profoundly changed our lives in a significant way?

Information that was previously unavailable to us, or at least inconvenient to access, is now a mere keystroke away. We are more knowledgeable, and  have become a global information society, with immediate and virtually unlimited access to information. In many ways, the wireless technology has drawn people, previously thousands of miles apart, closer together.

Consider how technological advances have altered how we interact with each other.

In the late 70s, AT&T used the slogan “Reach out and touch someone” as part of their Long Distance Telephone marketing campaign. The inferred message was that using (their) long distance service would facilitate a human and personal connection between two people who are miles apart. The ads attempted to humanize an impersonal and unfeeling technology. 

In today’s world of mass media and fast food, I wonder if what we consider technological advances, are really for the better?

Given our means of communicating more, we seem to be connecting less.  In the US, a staggering 2.5 billion text messages are sent every day.  Our ability to adapt to the sensory preferences  (visual, auditory, kinisthetic) of others is becoming neglected.The teenagers and young adults today are bright, engaging, and tech-savvy.

However, I wonder if the convenience of tools such as text messaging, has compromised the art of human connection? Is this the Achilles heel of technology? 

It seems somewhat paradoxical that as the technology narrows the distance between us, in some ways, we are being drawn farther apart. Perhaps the problem is that volume and availability of information are insufficient to create a human connection; believability is a function of how the information is exchanged.  

The impersonal nature of much of our new technology has negated the emotional risk and reward that exists in personal connection, and in so doing, has removed that which makes the human communication meaningful.

How has technology caused more distance with your personal relationships? Has the increasing ability to communicate electronically stalled meaning face-to-face-communications with anyone you know? I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories!

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Paul Short is an independent OD and Change Consultant.
He can be reached at paul.short@live.ca
Image Source: static.open.salon.com
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4 responses to “Human Connection: The Achilles Heel of Technology

  1. I have really found just the opposite effect on my own relationships. The people that I see on a daily basis are the people I still communicate deeply and fully with, in the same in-person manner that I used to. If I text or email them, it is only to say “I’m running five minutes late”, or “here’s a great photo of my dog”. In the old days if I wanted to meet up with them I had to make a solid plan in advance and not deviate from it; now I can call my friend’s cell phone and say “hey, I just got an opening in my schedule, can you go skiing this morning?” or even, “I just saw your car at the trailhead, tell me where you are and I’ll catch up”.

    The people that I don’t see regularly, those who I’ve moved away from or who have moved away themselves, I’m now in better touch with than I ever was before because it’s so much easier to connect with them. I can send a quick email at 5:00 am when it’s too early to call. I can call them on Skype and see their faces. I can look at the Linkedin profile and see what they’re up to. In the old days when my choices were to write a letter or make an expensive phone call, I would go for months or even years without reaching out because it was just too much trouble. So for me, the technology has all been positive.

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  2. I find the opposite to be true.

    Reply #1: You only have so much time. Would you rather use that time managing or leading? A key element of my consulting practice is to encourage the use of technology to reduce the amount of time spent managing in order to increase the amount of time available for leadership. Conversations are key to leadership. Managing conversation threads and contact lists takes time. I would rather spend that time conversing. I encourage the use of these tools to facilitate your ability to lead.

    Reply #2: There have long been forms of communications used to maintain emotional closeness between people who are physically separate. Rather then look at this as though we are being drawn farther apart, look at this as a means to draw us together.

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  3. Nice article Paul! You really got me thinking on this one.

    I have experienced some great strides with technology and communications. What I have found is that it usually speeds up what is already there. With cool tools like http://www.jott.com, I have found that leaving text messages to groups of people by leaving a simple voice mail is incredibly powerful for quick communications. I would call this a positive development. But, I also get text messages from my kids when they are 4 feet away from be in another room when I could hear them through the wall if they would just talk to me…Sheesh…not a positive!

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  4. Hi Paul,

    Interesting thoughts, but I may see things very differently than you in this regard. Even the subtle inclusion of the term “impersonal nature…” seems disingenuous, perhaps.

    Technology doesn’t dilute relationships by nature. It can be abused and it is up to the user to strike a balance to optimize the tools, but the potential impact on relationships and interpersonal connectivity is tremendous.

    Social networking forums, for example, can serve to create many connections – albeit week ones – that would never have existed without those platforms. While face2face connection is a necessity to solidify those connections as strong ties, the catalyst and wheel-greasing are courtesy of a technological enabler.

    Even things like text messages aren’t a replacement for other communications. They are in addition to other communications. Tom’s closing remark (reply #3) is a valid source of frustration, but on the positive side; his kids are communicating with him. I’m from a generation of turn the music up, lock the door, and totally isolate yourself from your parents.

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