Staying in Touch: Electronic Courtship and Other Rituals

Sometimes I bemoan the fact that we have all been scattered to the four winds by our modern transportation systems but have not been held together by those same systems.

Unless you are well-heeled or subsidized through your government or corporate position, air travel is too expensive for anymore than one or two trips per year, if that.

Staying in touch with loved ones is quite a chore. Not too many of us can simply walk up the street and visit our son or daughter for a cup of tea. Often family and close friends live miles away, separated by oceans and expensive travel costs!

My daughter in Holland will often call me - on my card - and "visit" for 45 minutes. If I become concerned about the cost of the phone call, Dana will say something like, "Well, you just took me out to dinner. O.K.?" But I still feel hungry and a phone call is not as satisfying as time spent together.

But we have gained something. Transportation technology has scattered us, and is undoubtedly the main culprit responsible for breaking up family and community in the western world.

However, the Internet is helping hold us together. More and more of us are taking advantage of information technology for our staying-in-touch needs. The Internet is often referred to as the Information Highway. But actually there are many "information highways" available to us for staying in touch-- some old, some new, some improved.

Have you noticed that the cost of long distance telephone calls has decreased? In fact there are ways to make zero charge calls via the Internet.

Print has improved. If you are not using desktop publishing in your business--and personal life--you are missing out on a lot. Software programs abound that allow you to use graphics and illustration and to format the printed page in a professional manner--and, therefore, to communicate better.

Consider e-mail. Anyone who is not taking advantage of electronic-mail these days is missing out on the excitement of near instant delivery of messages to just about anybody, anywhere. E-mail enhances our connection to family, close friends and business associates. True, the connection is not as personal as a shared lunch or a walk on the beach, but one should take advantage of what is available.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) may irritate us, but consider how it can help navigate us to information we need and guide us to people we need to contact--oh, and also to avoid people.

Through a combination of survey and Internet technology, organizations can quickly and at reasonable cost evaluate people's attitudes to products and services in order to respond better to customer needs, provide more value, and target markets more accurately and profitably.

In the May 15th - 21st, 2004 issue of The Economist, a report appears on page 63 on Virtual meetings: Being there. After the terrorist attacks of 2001, travel looked dangerous and web-based conferencing and virtual meetings grew in popularity. They continue to be popular through good as well as bad times from "simple three way conference calls to multimedia presentations beamed to hundreds over the internet."

Virtual meetings save money and time. They are according to Ira Weinstein of Wainhouse Research, "Best seen as a middle ground between a phone call and a face to face meeting and he concluded, "Video conferencing is a perfect second- meeting tool after the first handshake."

The relatively simple addition of an inexpensive camera sitting on top of your monitor and a headphone with a mike can do the trick.

Each highway has its own impact. Each of the technologies for staying in touch possesses its own negatives and positives, its own particular feel. Technology, like any reality, is essentially neutral. It has no intention to harm - or to benefit for that matter. It simply is what it is.

Yet if the technology becomes ubiquitous, its consequences both positive and negative quickly add up, and become part of the social landscape. Then it is up to us to relate to technology properly. Keeping things human is a matter of the heart. It isn't a matter of what information highways exist or do not exist. It is a matter of how we use them.

Calling technology "inhuman" makes no sense. The biggest mistake we can make is simply blindly following the edict that if it can be done then let's do it, without regard for the consequences.

When we called cars "horseless carriages" we thought of them as a continuation of a carriage but drawn by a different form of energy. I doubt if many people in the early days of automobile travel envisioned the positive and negative impacts this new technology would create way beyond the "comforting" image of a carriage being drawn by an alternate energy. The horse manure may have disappeared from the streets but was replaced by highly destructive exhaust fumes.

For example, the car changed the way we court. It moved courting from the home porch to the back seat. We might regret this change and we lost a lot when it happened, but this change in behavior became a fact of life.

And now the Internet provides another way for people to meet, relate--and even court. Marriages have taken place between people who "met" on the Internet. The Internet is remarkably democratic. It cares nothing for your race, creed, color, disability or ability, appearance, and so forth. People have encountered each other via the Internet in a more essential manner than they might have if they had first met in person. Something might have put them off. Some small prejudice perhaps.

Is new technology positive or negative? It's both. What you lose on the curve you gain on the straightaway. We have no choice but live in the world as it is. As it has moved on, whether we think it is progress or regression. But we do have a choice over how we relate to the emerging technologies. And that power to choose is ultimately what defines us as humans.

The Many "Information Highways" Available for Staying in Touch

  • Desktop Publishing and Graphics
  • Slide presentations via a laptop or desktop
  • Digital photography
  • E-mail via the Internet.
  • Telephone (CATI) Computer-Aided
  • Telephone Interviewing
  • Smart Fax with no data entry
  • Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
  • Remote-conferencing.

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