1. Lessons In Leadership
  2. Thoughts from the Zeitgeist

Resist the Urge to Isolate

Thoughts while streamlining airport interactions.

I love the way technology is helping streamline some of the more tedious parts of my day. Because I’m in the events industry, I travel a lot. I have a strategic routine to minimize annoying airport interactions. I have a boarding pass on my phone and a printed copy in case I’m using the phone. I avoid checking baggage at all costs. I use a service that has pre-screened my security status so I can take the shortest line through airport security. And an app to order and pay for coffee so it’s waiting for a grab and dash. If there’s time, I head to the airline’s lounge to work in private; I can pop in my ear buds as a signal to others that I am not open to conversation.

Thinking about my airport habits made me realize that I embrace most technology that allows self-service in all aspects of my life because it is more efficient. And let’s face it, I also have a vested interest in getting it right.

But recently, I’ve been wondering about the downside of this convenience. We can check out our own groceries at the store… or have them delivered anonymously. By ordering almost anything we want or need online, we can eliminate the many annoying interpersonal interactions that used to define our day. We can work remotely and participate in meetings virtually. If we leave the camera off, we can multitask, tune out other people, and only comment when it’s our turn on the agenda. We can text people even when a phone call makes more sense.

This is expedient. But it’s isolating. And I suspect that too much of it is not good for any of us.

Selfishly, I miss human interaction the most when I have a problem and I want a real person to help me out. And when I find myself losing my temper with a chatbot, I realize that even a poorly trained call-center person, one who isn’t even empowered to solve my problem, can at least express genuine empathy.

Granted, people are messy. We are unpredictable. We can be annoying. But we are essentially social. And in many ways, it is the random interactions that define our humanness. They are what remind us to be polite. They prompt us to be considerate of others’ needs and point out that we are not the only ones who have headaches, or worries, or places to be. They help us appreciate small acts of kindness and to extend them in turn. They prove that we are more the same than we are different.

As Marc Andreesen has observed, software is eating the world we once knew. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But for me, it underscores the importance of connecting in-person through live events — and engaging fully in those sticky, messy, and memorable moments that define us. Our random behavior and illogical approaches allow surprising room for acts of kindness, compassion, humor, and joy. I’ve written elsewhere that I am a huge fan of AI and the many ways it enables meaningful progress. I just hope that we remember to reinvest the time that technology saves us to bring added value to our interpersonal connections.

I suspect that the search for work/life harmony is going to be replaced by the need to find balance between habits that are isolating and those that enable connection. Live, in-person events serve as a platform for that kind of vital connection by bringing together people with similar interests and objectives. Events act as an incubator for collaborative innovation.

I don’t know what tech breakthrough will cause the next disruption. I welcome it. But I also plan to be more intentional about the simple human interactions that punctuate my day. The next time an airport barista wishes me safe travels, I plan to enjoy the moment and respond. On the spectrum of human interaction, it’s a small exchange. But life’s little pleasantries? There’s still no app for that. And the price of inconvenience could pay huge dividends in happiness. Being human means we all have to pay our dues. But the value of membership? Priceless.

Follow me on LinkedIn!