The awful truth: Mobility disconnects us

I had a call this week with a senior executive at Aetna, who reached out to me, and wanted to learn about my business.  From the start, the conversation felt weird; almost hollow, like this person I was supposed to get to know wasn’t even there. I heard typing on her laptop when she was introducing herself. And she began with a confession that she was at the United Club lounge, skimming through 600 emails from the previous day, (a daily ritual), while in between meetings in ORD and SFO.  She was the poster child for ‘mobility’.

Once upon a time, before information technology, businesses had to rely on good old-fashioned, face-to-face human contact to build and maintain relationships with their employees and customers. This high level of personal interconnectedness fostered strong corporate cultures. An employee knew his or her company’s story, values, and beliefs—and so did customers. A strong corporate culture, in turn, fostered a sense of community/family from one generation to the next, a commitment to connecting people.

But in recent years, things changed. As one of my clients put it, “When I was at IBM in the late eighties, it was more about connections, and the company felt a sense of responsibility to develop these connections. Now, very few do this; very few know why they do what we do.”

The discussions on this site this week have centered on Mobility.  Mobility promised to make us all more connected, more informed, and more productive. But if it has broadened our capacity to ‘connect’, it has also led to a shallower brand of connection.

We don’t have to connect person-to-person anymore, so we don’t. And that sucks.

The conceptual, right-brain outlook that once guided so many people to success has been replaced by a myopic, left-brain, multi-tasking, information focused culture. Personal connection has taken a back seat to how much information and automated systems can be delivered via a mobile app.

Even the sales profession, the only profession I’ve even known, where interpersonal relationships have always been so important, feels the effects. Here is a crazy one: there is even Sales Training delivered via mobile apps now.  WTF?!? The traditional emphasis on personal, emotional connection got shunted aside by automation and information mobility.

The result? An economy-wide disconnect between companies and their employees and customers. Granted, I get the power of making a dinner reservation on Urbanspoon or checking my flight status on my iPhone. But I’m wondering if the business world in general has suffered a decline in its collective emotional intelligence because of this.

I was thinking about the greatest irony with all this discussion on ‘Mobility’ — the very thing created to connect us has become the thing that is disconnecting us.  Mobility is preventing us from truly connecting.

Part of me wants to get neuro-sciencey and talk about how we’re neurobiologically wired to connect emotionally with other humans; it’s what gives us purpose, and how this age of mobility is delivering information in a way that is in contrast with our intrinsic human processes, blah blah… Forget all that, I’m just more interested in eye contact and good old fashion human connection.

And for me, this is a tough pill to swallow, even as I’m writing this, I’m saying to myself, “ouch!” Somehow both my daughters ended up with iPhones; and my wife and I find ourselves in unchartered waters.  They’ve learned to stay connected, to be mobile in every way: even hiding their iphones under their napkins at dinner, always tethered to their friends via texts and Instagram. But how connected are they?  How connected was I to that Aetna executive?   My girls are ‘mobile’. Heck, that Aetna executive is ‘mobile’.  But now I find my work cut out for me to win back my daughter’s eye contact, to hear their stories, to share mine; to raise our collective “Emotional Quotient (EQ)” as a family once again.

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Categories: Mobility

Author:Ben Zoldan

Demystifying what the most inspiring people do to influence change, Co-founder, Story Leaders and Co-author, What Great Salespeople Do: The Science of Selling Through Emotional Connection and the Power of Story

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5 Comments on “The awful truth: Mobility disconnects us”

  1. September 26, 2012 at 2:30 am #

    Ben, You have touched on something very important. Our minds are preoccupied with the call/text from John when we talk to Tom and when John is present in person, we are busy texting Tom. From being a tool that allows you to connect with someone who is not around, it is slowly becoming a tool that is widening the gap with those actually around you in the here-and-now. Smartphones and always-on connectivity are adding to it.

    I am sure there is another argument on that with another view, but I am with you on this and just want all of us to still find joy in good ‘old fashioned human relationships’!

  2. September 26, 2012 at 7:42 am #

    When I posted this on ‘connectivity”, I was thinking of the negative affects of mobility on us socially (ie how we’re rarely present), but then I read Chris posting: “Himalayas…” And I realized I missed something so important: Mobility is creating incredible uses: I looked around this morning and found some remarkable ‘mobile’ capabilities: itriage for example — an app that enables you to diagnose symptoms on your iphone, get you urgent care when needed.

    • September 26, 2012 at 10:51 am #

      Yes…mobile is a double-edged sword for sure. What you brought up, however, was excellent and a very real problem.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. From the Himalayas to the Hilton | Successful Workplace - September 26, 2012

    […] technology is remarkable. While we’re busy checking sports scores and posting to Instagram (something Ben Zoldan deplores), the developing world sees mobile devices as a way to find freedom and life-saving medical care. […]

  2. Don’t trade convenience for connection | Successful Workplace - October 8, 2012

    […] Zoldan wrote an interesting viewpoint on the effect of the mobility trend, in that becoming social and mobile is eroding the art of connection and communication. On the […]

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