You are reading these words on a screen.
Perhaps it is a small one that you're holding in your hand, or a larger one sitting on a desk. Most likely, there are other windows open and notifications popping up as you read -- emails, texts, status updates, tweets -- that arrive with a buzz or a beep or a distracting flash in the corner that grabs your attention, even if just for a moment. Maybe one of those distractions is how you came to be reading this, and maybe you will forward it along to someone who will receive it while scrolling through other messages and updates, and the process will continue and repeat itself.
This is how we communicate now. Not exclusively -- but extensively. And even when our communications do not arrive as part of the constant digital flurry, the devices that transmit them are ever-present and always within reach -- a constant gravitational pull of distraction and imagined urgency, almost as difficult to defy as gravity itself.
These tiny but seismic additions to how we connect with each other extend so fluidly, and we incorporate them into our daily lives so quickly, that many of us never notice the extraordinary costs they extract until we have already paid them. More than we care to admit, we now pay for the ease and frequency of our communication with the depth of our relationships. And those depths are where true and meaningful human connection resides.
It doesn't matter whether it is work email, Facebook, Twitter or texts with friends. When our communications are constant, but lacking depth and substance, our relationships become compressed, commodified and superficial.
The irony, of course, is that our vanishing connection to each other is actually driven by our deep need to connect. We are truly compelled, in a primal way, to engage with each other. It is just that the sheer torrents of communication made possible by digital make it difficult to respond meaningfully. Instead, we strive just to respond.
Some may argue that's a little sad, or even disturbing. I think it is a beautiful truth, and one that presents us with extraordinary opportunities to utilize these new tools, platforms and innovations in ways that make them both right-sized within our lives and powerful facilitators of the deeper connections they reveal we need.
Over the 25 years that I've worked in the fast-paced, always-connected-and-available public relations industry, I've found that the moments I've spent in the actual presence of clients and colleagues -- whether in a brainstorm, a lunch meeting, or simply sharing a cab to the airport -- have been the most valuable in strengthening relationships. In business, in friendship and even in love, the principles of human connection remain the same.
Deep, satisfying relationships require attention, focus, interest -- and most of all -- our actual physical presence. Whether it is with your clients, your coworkers, your partner, your children or your friends, you must be physically and mentally present. If you want to build true connections, you must take the time and make the effort to actually be with the people to whom you wish to connect. It sounds so obvious, but it is so frequently missed.
As our communication -- and with it, much of our interaction -- becomes increasingly digitized, we must always remember that we are not the words on the screen in front of us, no matter how many of them we write or read. Ease and speed of digital connection is incredible, but if you really want to experience technology's power to transform your life, send somebody this simple message: Where should we meet?
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power," which took place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.
Follow Karen van Bergen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/karenvanbergen