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Conversations about Amazon Web Services, using API (automatic programming interface) calls coupled with OAuth single sign-on capabilities, and a million other technology topics are incredibly interesting to our entire organization. So when I asked around the office which of these I should write about for this article, I was surprised to hear a consensus that we should talk about how technology is impacting the real underpinning of our organizational philosophy: Relationships Matter.
Unquestionably, it’s easier than ever to gather data, get qualified leads, and engage prospective clients in meaningful ways. Technology affords us the ability to significantly extend our reach, increase our capacity, and dramatically accelerate our access to information. But at what cost? A consortium of the world’s most important minds—Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk among hundreds of others—have recently warned that artificial intelligence poses a potential existential threat to humanity. The group is talking about a much broader application and cautionary tale about technology than the individual relationships we have with our clients and business partners. But the principle remains—if we abdicate our humanity to technology for expediency, we risk losing our purpose.
Today, we have more “friends,” but less depth in our relationships. We have more “chats” and more conversations via posts, but less substance. We are more connected to each other than ever before but yet, the relationships we have with one another have become less meaningful. We are all flying around life Snapchatting, Facebooking and Instagramming but face-to-face personal conversations are becoming quaint.
Consider the 2014 study published in the journal, Environment and Behavior, “The iPhone Effect: The Quality of In-Person Social Interactions in the Presence of Mobile Devices.” The authors, Shalini Misra, Jamie Genevie and Miao Yuan of Virginia Tech and Lulu Cheng of Monsanto, looked at the impact cellphones have during social interactions, specifically the quality of the interactions when cellphones are present.
The study asked 100 pairs of individuals who had existing relationships to engage in both trivial and significant conversation topics. The interactions would happen at a coffee shop with observers making note of the individual’s behavior. Observations would note whether the cellphone was used, touched or placed on the table during the conversation. At the end of the 10 minutes, the participants took a survey to determine the level of connectedness and empathetic concern they felt during the interaction.
The study’s findings include:
►Out of 100 pairs, 29 had mobile phones present during their conversations, while 71 did not. Overall, conversations without phones present were rated significantly better than those with phones present, controlling for age, gender, ethnicity, and mood. Those who conversed without a mobile phone present reported a higher level of connectedness.
►Those who conversed in the absence of a mobile device felt a greater level of empathy for their partner. Additionally, those pairs with a close relationship reported lower levels of empathy with a mobile device present as compared to pairs with a more casual relationship.
►The study did not find any significant effect of mobile phones during more meaningful conversations, as compared to more casual encounters.
“Even when they are not in active use or buzzing, beeping, ringing, or flashing, [digital devices] are representative of people’s wider social network and a portal to an immense compendium of information,” the researchers note. “In their presence, people have the constant urge to seek out information, check for communication, and direct their thoughts to other people and worlds. Their mere presence in a socio-physical milieu, therefore, has the potential to divide consciousness between the proximate and immediate setting and the physically distant and invisible networks and contexts. The permeable and fluid pervasive computing environments of our technological society and the array of behavioral demands they create thus dramatically change the socio-physical context of face-to-face communication. In these permeable and micro-fragmented contexts, we are in a constant state of poly-consciousness in which multiple relationships and settings can be the focus of one’s attention at any given time regardless of location or context.”
That’s a lot of academic speak for when we are “connected” to the wider world through our technology we are much less connected with the person right in front of us. We are losing our humanity to information overload, aren’t we?
So chuck the laptop and cellphone out the window and go have breakfast with a business partner, right? No, that’s not it. How will you post a picture of the breakfast and let everyone see your eggs benedict before you eat it?
The point is not to get rid of technology. The point is to understand that it should be used as a means to the end with the end being a deep and meaningful relationship with your clients and business partners. When your CRM tells you it’s your past client’s birthday, it will be easy to send out a quick email birthday message. You may not even have to take the time to send the email, the system likely will do it for you. You might be able to send a birthday card in the mail. You might be able to text them, Facebook them, Instagram them. But what if you called them? What if you picked up the phone and said happy birthday? What does a phone call say about your commitment to the relationship?
When we reflect on how much technology has positively impacted our lives, it’s truly astounding. I remember a time when I literally had to write—with a pen, on a piece of piece of paper in a file folder—the name, phone and note details of a prospective business partner. My CRM was a piece of paper stapled to a folder. I didn’t have the time to maintain the number of relationships I do today but I spent more quality time with my clients and partners. I got to know them on a personal level which resulted in a consistent flow of business. Today’s technology affords me the opportunity to do both, manage hundreds of relationships and still have deep, meaningful connections with them. I have to be diligent and mindful though; if I am not careful relationships become just names in a database or worse, simply email addresses of people I talked to at one point or another who I hope, one day, if I keep asking virtually, will seek me out to do business.
This article was written in the cloud over several days from five different devices, including my cell phone while I was in a waiting room. I received editorial review from two different individuals who provided feedback in-line all without ever uttering a spoken word to each other. It was an incredibly efficient process but I think I’ll walk over to my co-workers’ desks to thank them in person. Technology makes our lives easier but people make our lives better. Relationships Matter.
This article originally appeared in the June 2016 print edition of National Mortgage Professional Magazine.