Mar 25, 2020–A year ago I wrote a tongue-in-cheek piece about how inefficient it was to transport our bags of bones around the world for meetings, conferences, and vacations. What if, I wondered, we could accomplish those travels virtually, saving the hassles and costs?
Welcome to the future. In light of the world situation, we have reached the point where we cocoon our flesh and practice “social distancing.” But humans are social creatures. Though we can stand apart, can we stay apart?
My original premise was how inefficient it is to ship our slabs of meat cross-country. Consider the steps in traveling to a work conference: driving to the airport, long-term parking, airfare, cab and shuttle from the airport to the hotel, plus the costs of housing and feeding.
Was all this necessary? After all, we now have internet technology that allows us to communicate instantly and even create virtual worlds we can inhabit with avatars.
How freeing, yet how limiting, I thought. Would this new way of interacting with anyone, anywhere on the planet, at any time, replace sitting in those conference rooms or concert halls? Instead, will we meet in our imaginary world, wearing gowns and tuxedoes, toasting with virtual champagne, while in reality lounging at home wearing sweats eating oatmeal?
Back in my original article, I concluded this virtual world would never arrive, because we humans still need that multi-sensory contact to fully communicate. After all, 90% of communication is conveyed without words.
But our current situation might prove me wrong. We, as a society, are looking at replacing the risk of face-to-face contact in favor of the safety of isolation.
One of my favorite Dilbert cartoons shows the company sending home “nonessential personnel” before an expected storm. The final panel shows the pointy-haired boss looking out the window at the parking lot, under the thought bubble, “This will be the easiest round of layoffs ever.”
The point of course is that all the nonessential employees have just revealed their “nonessential-ness.” That is sort of what is going on in our lives right now. Due to extraordinary circumstances, we are excising nonessential activities.
This is forcing us to reexamine some of our dearest assumptions.
Schools, for example. Education has harnessed the power of virtual classrooms and online learning, but we still default to placing people together in classrooms, often at great expense to the student.
Voting is another. We have the technology to vote virtually, and by mail. Yet we still require bodies to aggregate in specific coordinates in 3-dimensional space at specific times.
Churches! Even those that resisted allowing video into the sanctuary are now reaching new audiences around the world by streaming online services.
One positive that may come out of this situation is that it is forcing us to make that leap to do things differently. As new shop owners, we had been looking at ways to extend our brand and service beyond the footprint of our building. There is a whole world of customers out there, we surmised, that would love our products. But we had yet to put a plan into action.
Now our hand has been forced. Suddenly all the little inconveniences and uncertainties have fallen away. Literally within hours we figured out how to highlight products and process online payment. We didn’t worry about production values or shipping options, we just did it.
I see this happening across our communities. Stores and restaurants and governments and schools are finding ways to “go virtual.” Isn’t it amazing how quickly we can do something new and different when we stop worrying about whether it will be perfect?
There is a deeper consideration. At the end of every interview of musicians, entertainers, or anyone trying to attract an audience, I ask this same question: Why should anyone come out to your event?
To a person, they give the same answer: There is nothing comparable to experiencing a live performance while sitting in a space with other people. No video, streaming service, or hi-definition television screen can recreate that experience. It is always different, always new, always unexpected.
Are we learning there might other ways of defining “live?”