Closer than Ever

I’m a human being. I have a job. I’m part of a community. My job is to produce events where thousands of people come together to build community, sometimes as a part of their jobs.

That sort of thing doesn’t exist anymore, at least right now.

Instead, I, and most people in the world, are isolated in our homes. Some of us are fortunate enough to be “working.” I set that word in quotation marks because we can’t travel, we can’t meet, we can’t gather with others outside our closest-knit tribes.

But we can still communicate and be a part of community, or many communities. Thanks to technology — including an at-times-challenged assortment of routers, modems and broadband networks — we can see and hear each other. We can’t touch or shake hands or enjoy all the senses of togetherness, like proximity and scent, aura and energy, and more. As my Mother says, “es major que nada, baby!” (Mom, a retired Spanish and Latin teacher, lives in a retirement community: the epitome of isolation these days.)

So why do I say we are closer than ever?

From my dining room table (slash office) here in Sunnyvale, California, I look into a pixelated portal and share with my colleagues in all new ways. Ways that are more instructive, surprising and personal. I meet your spouses and children who happen into frame during our meetings. I see what you wear when you don’t think (or realize) anyone is watching. I discover that you have a wine cellar or a killer Disneyana collection or an interesting taste in décor (I won’t judge!). I learn that your dog knows the sound of an approaching Fedex truck. You have a green thumb, a passion for mid-century modern, birdwatching, a carb-free diet, jigsaw puzzles and so much more. I’m getting to know you on a different, more human level.

Of course, most of these insights are the things good friends should know about one another. Though I wouldn’t count most of my professional colleagues as good friends, I do value them now, as ever, and in more ways than I can catalog here.

All of these insights make me feel closer to everyone, more empathic in every exchange. That would have been awkward to admit a few months ago, to say the least. It’s still pretty awkward. In this “new normal,” however, the word awkward is almost comforting. These days, if it’s just awkward, then it’s not completely, seismically and mind-bogglingly bizarre.

When I talk with my colleagues now about creating virtual and digital experiences for our clients – to replace our cancelled and postponed events — I implore them to look for new ways to engage and “touch” our audiences. Ironically, that’s more important now than ever.

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