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Are You Missing out on the Value of Conversation?

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Technology. Rapidly advancing, ever-changing technology. There’s a lot of evidence out there that shows us the massive, beneficial impact that technology has had on our lives in nearly every way imaginable, from our health to our social needs. It seems like not a day goes by without some sort of drastic, life-changing technological innovation.

But what is technology doing for our interpersonal relationships? How did human beings ever survive before the invention of electricity? We’re constantly emailing, texting, messaging, and chatting with the virtual form of another individual. This can go on for months or even years before we ever come face-to-face with the actual person. It might not ever happen at all! How many times have you been sitting at your desk and, instead of standing up and walking for sixty seconds to speak with a coworker on the opposite side of the building, you shoot him or her an email?

Personally, I find that not only does a face-to-face conversation resolve an issue more quickly than email, but it also helps me to build stronger connections with my coworkers. These connections can’t be made when you have to watch out for misinterpreted email language and delayed response times.

Shelly Turkle, Professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, shared her thoughts on this topic during her keynote session at the Marketing Profs B2B Forum. In a session titled “Reclaiming the Conversation,” she took the audience through today’s dependency on technology – where it stems from, why it exists, and how we can make a change for the better.

Turkle told the audience, “These days, we readily admit that in business and love, we would rather text message or email than talk face-to-face. Online, our phones promise us that we can always be heard. We can put our attention wherever we want it to be. We never have to be alone. We never have to be bored. We have the best shot at getting things right. We can present ourselves as who we want to be.”

And what a valid point this is. How easy is it for us to create, edit, and reread an email before we hit “send”? I’ll admit that I’m one of those people who reads an email at least five times before it makes its way to its intended recipient. It’s that fear of making a mistake, or “being vulnerable,” as Turkle refers to it. We all want to present ourselves in the way we want to be perceived, and this can be controlled easily by hiding behind technology.

But isn’t our vulnerability what makes us human? Don’t we need to take risks to accomplish the goals we set for ourselves? Turkle focuses on the feeling of empathy as the motivation behind her research. Merriam Webster describes empathy as “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions.” Is it possible to experience this feeling when we’re only dealing with others through a virtual world?

Absolutely not. In fact, I would argue that along with a lack of empathy, the technological intrusion of miscommunication and response time delays alone are more than enough of a reason to reclaim verbal conversation as a regular aspect of our everyday working lives. Why choose to hide behind a computer or cell phone when you have the opportunity for human interaction: a chance to develop and build a bond with another human being?

Relationships are, after all, the backbone of our society. And by relationships, I’m not referring to the people you follow on Twitter, friend on Facebook, or connect with on Google Hangouts. Don’t get me wrong – I love social media and the connections we can make, topics we can share, and exposure we can get through these channels. However, these online connections should only be a supplement to our in-person conversations and time spent together.

We must go back to basics and learn how to remove our reliance on technology. Technology should be used to enhance the relationships we already have or are trying to build.

Turkle’s closing remarks set the priority for where to start: “Look up, look at each other, and let’s start the conversation. It’s not an easy fix, but it’s the beginning, and we have everything we need to begin. We have each other.”