Connection comes in all forms. We establish connections with our families, our friends, our coworkers and even the world at large. Yet, many people worry that technology is destroying human connection.
In a recent commencement address to Duke University's 2013 graduating class, Melinda Gates touched upon this topic of connection and what it truly means. A 1986 Duke graduate herself, Gates spoke about how technology has transformed the way we communicate. Rather than view technology as a necessary evil, Gates believes that technology helps make the world smaller, and in turn it becomes like a neighborhood.
I agree with Gates, but I also see how easy it can be for technology can also undermine the importance and benefits of in-person interaction. I've seen plenty of cases where the negative (read: obnoxious and ridiculous) aspects are in full swing. For example, it drives me up a wall when I'm at dinner with someone and they're constantly checking their phone or texting; it's insulting, and it makes me want to throw their phone out the window. In a professional atmosphere, I've seen offices where the entire floor of people are all listening to earphones and emailing/IMing eachother to communicate rather than choosing to walk over and talk to someone in person.
Looking at the other side of the coin is easy for me too though, especially since I run an entirely virtual company. All 30 or so of us work from home offices across the country, and the only way we communicate is through technology - phone, email, websites, the cloud, IM, apps, and more. For our company, technology unites us in so many amazing ways. We have people from Oregon to Florida, Connecticut to California, all working on projects together. Not only that, as a company, it widens the candidate pool far beyond a fifteen-mile radius of our headquarters, so we can find the best people no matter where they live.
And personally, I love that I can keep in touch with my family and friends who live far away. Having my kids Skype with their grandmother, IMing my sister for quick updates on her latest date, or any hundreds of other ways I probably use technology in a week. It's abundant, and honestly, it's downright convenient.
Perhaps it's because "balance" is my personal mantra, but I believe we all have to find a balance of how we integrate technology in our lives. Yes, technology connects us, but it's ultimately up to us to decide what to do with those connections. Gates encouraged the Millenials she spoke to at the Duke University commencement ceremony to not connect with others simply because they can, but rather to use those connections to make the world better. Reaching out to family members to mend fences, emailing a job lead to a friend looking for work, and allowing people the flexibility to telecommute so that they can achieve work life balance are all ways that technology, indeed, keeps us productive, content--and yes--connected.