Proximity and Progress

When you put these sorts of things into perspective, its really incredible to think that what was seemed so amazing around the time that I was born is now so commonplace that the generation following mine has difficulty imagining life differently.

And, yes, as a science-fiction fan and writer, I think it’s really cool that a science fiction author was the one predicting these sorts of things.

I don’t think most of us question the enormous benefits that these technologies have brought to our lives. When our creative impulses strike, writers, photographers, designers, painters and musicians now have the means to share our ideas and our works instantly with others via the very blogosphere in which you now read this. Writers publishing their work, or musicians selling their recordings, have never had easier methods to do so because of our communication technology. The fact that our family can watch our daughter grow by way of regular video calls or photos in a shared Dropbox folder is something that can be invaluable.

Still, I think that it’s important to think about the limitations of digital communications. They are, after all, intended to augment the human experience, and are not to be used as a substitution or replacement for the human experience. Dave Reinhardt wrote a thought-provoking post about how this shows up in a theatrical performance over on Transpositions last week. One of the words that he used perfectly identifies the point that I’m trying to make when I talk about the “human experience,” and that is “space.”   Communication is always deeper when we share the same space, partly because a huge amount of interpersonal communication is nonverbal, but also because we can interact physically when share the same space. When my parents held our daughter during last weekend’s visit, it was a much deeper experience for them than the previous months of seeing her on Skype.

Even when, as Reinhardt mentions, the physical proximity is within the venue of a performance space, there’s something different. Listening to your favorite band’s album, after all, is a more limited experience than seeing them perform that same music live.

There’s so much that can be accomplished so much more easily, especially in our professional lives, today, even more than Clarke imagined. As such, though, there’s more importance to remembering the balance. We have to allow time…in fact, we have to intentionally create the time…to share the same space with each other, because that is what is critical to the human experience. That time of physically sharing space should be more frequent than the digitally augmented time together whenever possible. The trick is to let our humanity be experienced more fully, not to let it be unintentionally limited by the very advances intended to let it grow.

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