There is a television show on the CW Network called “Supernatural”, that is currently entering its eleventh season. The show features the adventures of two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, as they follow their father’s footsteps as “hunters”; fighting “evil supernatural beings of many kinds including monsters, demons, and gods that roam the earth”. There is a broad supporting cast, with a fair assortment of good guys, bad guys, and guys whose positions between good and evil precariously shift based on circumstance. It is a pretty entertaining show, and as a dark comedy is actually much funnier than it sounds on the surface.
A line from one particular show several seasons ago really resonated with me, and I find myself thinking of it more and more frequently these days. I don’t recall all of the specifics of the episode itself, except that a demon Sam and Dean were hunting was using cell technology to call and attract victims whom he would then kill. It turns out this demon, who had to “consume souls” to survive, had been luring humans to their death for hundreds of years, but only recently had he adapted to using modern technology with which to ensnare his victims. This apparently made his task much, much easier. As the Winchester’s cornered him and prepared to summarily dispatch him, he bragged about how easy it had become to lure people away from the herd using the technologies of today. He boldly stated:
Technology makes life so much easier. Used to be I’d hide in the woods for days, weeks, whispering to people, trying to draw them out into the night. But they had community, they all looked out for each other. I’d be lucky to eat may be one – two souls a year. But now when I’m hungry I simply make a phone call. You are all so connected. But you have never been so alone.
You are all so connected. But you have never been so alone.
It was, in a singular flash, a brilliant statement on societal evolution and the impact of mobile technology. Kudos to the writer who coined that phrase, and massaged that message into the television script.
You don’t have to look long or far today to see this statement in action around you. Do you see a carload of teenagers in the lane next to you? They aren’t talking to each other; they are staring at their phones (including, unfortunately, the driver). In a restaurant? Same thing. I even routinely see couples – some apparently out on a date – each staring at their phone and not even acknowledging the presence of their partner.
Even in the workplace, technology’s march is causing this phenomenon. We now spend our work day with far more screen time and much less face time than our predecessors did. Remote workers go weeks and months without any “in person” interaction with their peers. While communication lines have never been faster or more efficient, for many the office has never felt this empty.
I swear, we are just one iPhone model away from becoming WALL-E’s fat people in the floaty chairs.
I’ve been asked numerous times if I have an “office” (it seems many people think I just blog for a living, but really, I run a living, breathing company – with employees and everything). They ask if we are a “virtual company” with people operating out of their homes. The answer, is we do have a physical office, and while we could operate in the virtual space, we have intentionally chosen not to do so. Our future plans do allow for remotely based personnel, but for 17 years we have maintained a physical location where all of our development, data compilation and sales have been based. The reason?
There is value in human interaction. There is value in face time. I like to tell people that my associates and I can gather around a conference table, debate or troubleshoot an issue, and arrive at a boneheaded Dilbertesque decision far faster than any wussy virtual group of employees can. I simply never want to lose the human feel of my technology based business.
I do not know why I have chosen this time to opine on this particular topic. It has been a hectic summer, and in recent weeks I have to admit to struggling a bit to focus on the “workers’ comp” end of my workers’ compensation blog. There have been travel and technical distractions. There has been a bit of change in my personal life, with a major move involving my father-in-law.
And there was the death of David Depaolo.
As I’ve written previously, Dave and I had an odd number of commonalities. One of the things we had in common was something I have never publicly discussed; we have both been the prominent face and identity of the company’s we lead. From employee comments I’ve read on Facebook and elsewhere, you get a palpable sense that, while David had competent and capable employees in his ranks, he was the soul of the company that he founded and loved. The employees have committed to ongoing success, and I am sure they will carry on his dream, but such a situation is not one I would wish on anybody. Whoever is tapped to take David’s place will have incredibly large and vibrant shoes to fill.
I would not be so bold as to claim to be the “soul” of my company, but there is little doubt I am its public face. Like DePaolo I have strong and competent people capable of carrying on the technical work should something ever happen to me. Still, a tragic accident and untimely death certainly gives you a moment for pause and reflection.
And that is ultimately why human synergy is so important in this increasingly high-tech world. As we continually increase our capabilities and improve our efficiencies, we should take care not to strip the humanity from our life equation. We need to refocus on human interaction and the value of face to face communication. Life is short, and no one will remember you for the brilliant text messages you sent. As the demon in our comparative tale said, we used to have community, we used to all look out for one another. We need to cling to that singular point of humanity that defines us as the creatures we are.
We’ve never been more connected, but there is no logical reason we should ever be alone.