Is technology driving us apart – or closer together?

I recently attended The Art of Marketing conference in Chicago featuring Seth Godin and the question was posed to the audience: how many of you feel like technology is isolating us as a society? I did not raise my hand. I looked around and was shocked to see the majority of hands up. Now, I’ve seen this question posed in forums like TED, NPR and other thoughtful, intellectual places. But I hadn’t really formed an opinion. Until now.

I think technology is driving the need for people to come together more urgently than ever before. Children are on Facebook and Twitter doing what one expert described as “self revealing before self reflecting.” Technology changes are eliminating some jobs yet creating new ones. Our economy has been turned inside out and upside down. The business climate changes faster than Chicago weather in two hours. The changes driven by technology are happening so fast, we don’t have time to process it, let alone buy the next generation device.

As a marketing professional, I’m excited. So many new opportunities! So many new ways to communicate and share! So many new things to learn and master! As a wife, mother and regular person who regularly forgets to water her plants, yells at my kids when they get on my last remaining nerve, and can never seem to remember where I last placed my coffee or my glasses, it terrifies me.

That’s why I feel the basics of connection are more important than ever before. Saying good morning, please and thank you. Taking time before a meeting for personal chat before diving into the project at hand. Making time to meet for coffee. Asking someone, “How are you?” and meaning it – then listening thoughtfully to the answer. Picking up the phone and calling instead of emailing or texting (once in a while, anyway – I’m not really a phone talker). Sitting down for dinner with the kids with the TV off, cell phones/iPads/iPods/laptops put away, and taking turns asking how everyone’s day was. We ask questions and listen to the answers: what’s something good that happened? Bad? Sad? What is something new you learned today? What surprised you?

One of my proudest moments as a parent was when my then 11-year-old son came home from school and said he had good news to share. “What is it?” I asked excitedly. He smiled secretively and said, “I’ll save it to share at dinner.” This from a kid who believes MineCraft is a metaphor for life. :)

I think that technology is a reminder that as much as things change – or no matter how fast – we can get through it if we stick together. And remember that no technology can ever replace the basic need we all have: to connect. To share. To belong. To know our place in the big, bad, technologically savvy world. And to know that at the end of any day, someone will be sitting at the table waiting to hear about your day.

Back to the Art of Marketing conference, the first speaker: Keith Ferrazzi, best-selling author and thought leader, who spoke about relationship marketing. Technology might enable relationships. But people sustain them.

What do you think? Is technology driving us apart or driving us closer together?

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