Those who know me know that I love the tech stuff, I love working in a field where investigating and using advances in technology is a daily affair, not something we do if we have time. I love finding ways to make my life easier and more interesting through social software. But when it comes down to it, it just doesn't replace the good ol' analog world of face to face relationships. I was recently talking to a friend of mine about our approaches to doing daily business; we both often prefer to deal with issues by talking to the person (instead of going back and forth with a string of emails). We have found that a simple question or miscommunication can be solved in no time with a little face to face time (oh - and yes, with a follow up email with action items and take away points). Further, I think the face to face relationship is an integral part of creating new working relationships (check out this post from How to Change the World). This got me thinking about the integration of technology in our relationships.
Work applications of social software is a hot topic right now, and deservedly so. There is so much potential for adding transparency to our work and idea development, propelling innovation, and bringing together a more diverse group of people to enhance whatever we do. What's more, social software can create better solutions for less perfect methodologies. Michelle Boule (a.k.a Jane) has a post on the agony of meetings and replacing face to face with web meetings. She thinks that face to face meetings lack transparency, keeps the oligarchy in power and is not the most productive way to work. Well, I agree and disagree. Yes, there is a lack of transparency in much that goes on in the workplace and in our profession, and many times I think it is to our detriment (check out T. Scott's post on transparency). And yes, I have sat through countless meetings that were -at best- not productive, and meetings that keep decision making in the hands of the few without the valuable influence or insights of the many [now - got to say, there is a time and place for everything, including decisions being made without getting weeks of input, and I might not always know when those times are]. But I think that face to face meetings are still an essential part of what we do. When you have the right group of people working together, being in the same space can produce fantastic results. We are social creatures by nature and feeding off each other's energy, enthusiasm and ideas can produce something that might not occur in an asynchronous environment. Still, there is a time and place for all meeting types, and often a place for combining them. I like to combine face to face with email, wikis, etc. to provide that crumb trail of the process, refine the brainstorming and hopefully enhance whatever it is we are seeking to accomplish. Technology is most often a tool to reach our goals, not the goal itself.
Mark Funk, the MLA President, has made his theme Only Connect! and social software is naturally a big part of this year's buzz. This is fantastic. I think we are no where near maximizing the possibilities of technology for connecting with each other, with potential partners in other disciplines, our customers, and those people we want to be our customers. And what is more - I am very excited to work on maximizing the possibilities not only in my own workplace but throughout the profession. But I am not approaching this year's mounting fervor for Web 2.0 by casting off the analog connections of personal relationships to find greener pastures (heck I live in NYC - green pastures are hard to come by); rather I am seeking to enhance the relationships I have and continue to make new ones using all the tools we have around us as well as those to come. What is that balance? I don't know, but I am looking forward to trying it all out.