This will help you thrive in the connectivity business.
I have been reviewing the MPI mission in preparation for a workshop I’m doing at the upcoming World Education Congress (WEC) in St. Louis. The MPI website has posted a pretty compelling video explaining the organization’s underlying focus on connectivity: “In today’s hyper-connected world you no longer just plan meetings and events; you design human connectivity.” True enough; but it left me thinking.
Connectivity is an awfully big word for the simple phenomenon it describes. Well, maybe not a simple phenomenon, but a natural one. People are naturally, even organically predisposed to form connections with one another. After all, we didn’t evolve individually but as members of little collectives. On both a behavioral and a cellular level, activities and chemicals that supported bonding and communication between a tribe’s members were favored.
So we learned to respond to the cycles of the sun and the moon, creating common work and rest times. We release neurochemicals like oxytocin that support our sense of rapport and empathy. And we developed body language, pacing awareness and mirror neurons to better sync up to others’ emotional states. That’s just the way people are: connected.
The only thing that makes connectivity so complex these days is the extent to which our society has worked to defeat all of those mechanisms. From mass production that served chiefly to disconnect consumers from local producers to mass media that disconnected consumers from one another, our lives have been shaped largely by businesses that do better the less connected we are to each other.
We buy more snow blowers, for example, if we don’t share them with our neighbors. If our whole block enjoys real connectivity, we could easily make do with one and even enjoy using it together. But that connectivity would be bad for business. Likewise, the long lonely commute many of us take from home to our jobs is not a feature of work itself. It is the result of years of steadfast lobbying by an automobile industry looking to make the car essential to the American way of life. The suburban landscape was developed with the needs of the automobile industry in mind, intentionally disconnecting home from work.
At first, the net seemed to reverse this trend. Instead of sitting alone watching a TV monitor, we were now engaging live with other people through a computer monitor. Every email, every tweet and every Facebook friend was a new point of connection. People became more interested in connecting with other people than connecting with professional content. And the content people still consumed now seemed like a mere excuse to interact with some other person in a chat room or through a Twitter hashtag.
But in spite of all this newfound electronic connectivity, the more organic connectedness of people in the real world still seems to be waning. I watch high school kids walk home side-by-side but texting to friends elsewhere. Even if they’re texting about some place they’re going to meet up live, those engagements are often spent staring into game screens or taking pictures to post on a social network.
In many ways, we are more connected than ever. We are utilizing media to connect to other people virtually. And this has led to many profound changes in the way we relate to all those other things that used to come to us through media. As I will demonstrate in my own workshop, we no longer relate to brand mythologies, and instead long for more factual accounts from the companies we patronize. We find “reality” programming more compelling than narrative and trust consumer accounts of product satisfaction more than professional reviewers. That’s because the fundamental biases of the digital space are different than the broadcast space. It favors transparency and honesty over fictional stories and mythic claims.
All this is good news, particularly for companies and organizations that have something to offer. But all the while, live, human-to-human engagement is becoming increasingly rare, misunderstood and ultimately undervalued. This is a problem that only our organization can address and solve.
If we are really in the connectivity business, then we must come to a better understanding of how our digital interactions support us, but also how they fall short or at least differ from the other kinds of connectivity we once used and enjoyed. We need to understand and be able to articulate why a live connection today changes the nature of our virtual connection for months to come. And we have to be able to do so in language that doesn’t depend on vague, spiritual understandings of the human condition but rather on substantive findings about the particular benefits of engaging face to face.
There’s some research out there—but not nearly enough for us to make our case or even appreciate what it is we are offering.
So here’s to connectivity as well as distinguishing one sort of connectivity from another. I will see you live and in person in St. Louis. One+
One+ July 2012,