“Connecting in cyberspace will never be the same as sharing a meal or a smile or a kiss,” says Edward Glaeser, an economics professor at Harvard. Humans crave connection to other humans, he argues, making a case for why technology is a complement to rather than a replacement of face-to-face contact. Electronic contact does not make personal contact less likely, but rather electronic contact might even be the tool that facilitates physical interaction. Improved and enhanced digital connection makes it easier to collaborate, innovate and create, and further makes it easier to publicize those creations to a broader audience. But ultimately, the “real” relationships are between humans in close physical proximity to each other. Silicon Valley in California and Bangalore in India are Glaeser’s examples of places where technology rules but where all the geeks gather, even as they have the ability to work electronically from a distance.
Social media are really platforms for strengthening connections with customers, brands and products. These e-ties are more binding, perhaps due to their constancy and reach. But ultimately that rolled eye, smile or jaw-drop are cues not easily available in electronic communications. Well, there is video conferencing. On the other hand, technology can be a substitute for unwanted and uncomfortable face-to-face contact, which is why breaking up via text message will probably be the wave of the future. And from a random place in Glaeser’s world, comes this: a grocery store study showed that productivity among not very competent checkout clerks tended to rise when a “star” checkout clerk was on the shift. No word on productivity of self checkout machinery.
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