Why Virtual Is Not The Entire Answer

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Where would we be today without the technology which enables us to turn on a camera and have meetings and conferences with others anywhere around the globe?

Our personal and professional lives would be very different and I wonder how our response to the Covid 19 crises would change. The fact is this ability made a bad situation slightly more tolerable. So where will this ability lead us a year from now? I hear many truly disturbing answers to that question.

  • We can all work from home now!
  • Our children can learn on-line!
  • We don’t have to have conferences and conventions; we’ll save the cost!
  • We’ve proven there is no longer a need to travel!

Why is this disturbing? Because these comments are all saying , “Interaction on a webcam is generally equivalent to interaction in person.” Hardly.

We humans are social animals. We need contact with other humans. That need cannot be fully satisfied by sending our likeness over the ether. I belong to a couple of local organizations and have grown accustomed, even looked forward to meeting with other members. Then, suddenly, I didn’t meet in-person with anyone. As an introvert, alone time is precious and without it I find it difficult to be social the rest of the time. Therefore, this lack of in-person contact should be okay, right?

Not really. I’ve discovered there is such a thing as too much alone time. To compensate, I meet with people on-line. I’ve become quite proficient at Zoom and I’m tired of it. It’s difficult to see body language; pauses in the conversation become awkward much sooner; delays tend to interrupt the flow of conversation and reduce spontaneity. And no, the chat box doesn’t compensate.

Okay, yes, all that is my problem, but I’m hearing the same complaints from other people as well. It’s just too impersonal.

Should we just throw out the whole on-line experience at the first opportunity? Of course not. This amazing capability is a terrific advantage for those who have widely separated teams and it’s a great way to deal with emerging issues needing quick attention. But, the on-line experience is not a substitute for meeting in-person. Socialization is a basic human need that cannot be fully met on-line.

I hear that some find working at home to be more productive. They say they don’t have the distractions of the office. Although unlikely, let’s assume those people live a cloistered existence with no distractions at home. How many tidbits of information are they missing? Like when Mary stuck her head in the door and mentioned something that seemed unimportant at the time, but turned out to help you to realize she was the right person to lead that new project. Or when Joe told you about something he heard that allowed you to pursue a new opportunity.

Technology allows great flexibility. We can accomplish more than ever before. But technology will never replace in-person, human interaction.

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