The human moment and working collaboratively online

I keep hearing people say things like this, including myself lately:

“We do our best work when we’re physically connected,” says Roy Hirshland, CEO of T3 Advisors, a commercial real estate advisor. Dialing in on Skype will work in a pinch, but it’s not a substitute, he says. “When you’re in the same room, you can see facial expressions, you can feel energy in a room.”

The idea is based on Media Richness Theory, which posits that some tasks require face-to-face interaction. Skype doesn’t fit the bill. “Skype is a great, free way to communicate with sound and picture, but with glitchy connections, awkward camera angles, the limitations of webcams and cheap microphones, etc.,” says Dr. Matthew Lombard, a professor at Temple University and president of the International Society for Presence Research. “It’s far from the same experience as talking to someone in person. Face-Time and other tablet and phone methods have the advantage of mobility, but they suffer in terms of the vividness of the experience.”

This is a quote from this article about telecommuting, a word I never even use despite being apparently one of the only 2.6% of people in the US who consider themselves full-time at-home workers.

I think it’s true to an extent, and the cutoff of whether it’s true for you is literally how much of your life has been lived online so far. How could someone who didn’t even have desktop computers as a reality when they were growing up imagine people only using them to have the same experiences they’re so used to being defined as in-person only? Of course these people don’t believe internet experiences are real enough, because they simply can’t conceive of it.

If you’re reading my blog though, I bet you’ve been interacting online with people from such a young age that you don’t even realize the extent to which you’re getting valuable human contact online that you’re dismissing as self-centered or useless simply because you’re staring at your phone or tablet to receive it.

Real things happen online. Really real things between really real people. You totally need in-person time to make new experiences that simply can’t happen online (and yes, I do believe there are some obviously, just not quite at the level discussed above), but dismissing online-only experiences as somehow less valuable or less productive or less human is something that can only be done by someone who can’t have those experiences to that level because their own growth and development as a human didn’t include this kind of communication transfer as a way of interacting with humanity. Computers are “other” and humans are “real” and for some people, this can never be made untrue.

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