Monday, January 3, 2011

Technology Can Never Replace the Personal Touch

While driving with my 12-year-old in the car the other day, she was helping to navigate by using the maps function of my Apple iPhone. I looked at her and asked: "Do you realize that what you have in your hand is magic?"

She looked at me and asked: "What?"

I responded by saying: "I remember when we used to travel that it was essentially a quiet zone. We didn't have telephones, we navigated by maps and occasionally got lost. If we had a flat tire or our car broke down, we had to rely on the graciousness of a passerby to give us a ride — or fix the tire/engine/whatever ourselves."

I continued with, "When we left one person's home, we'd often times call the other person to let them know we were leaving and kind of give them our best guesstimate of when we'd arrive. However, that person never really knew when we'd arrive. We could be a half hour early or four hours late and they had no way of knowing."

Just to really slam the point home, I told her about what it was like picking someone up from the airport. "We never really knew when the plane would land. Neither did the airline or airport. Real-time flight tracking was something only air traffic control did and they didn't have the time or technologies to let common folk like me have access. This meant that when we headed to the airport, we never know when the plane would arrive — or if it had been delayed, detoured, canceled, or otherwise changed."

Of course, while I was trying to make my point about what it was like when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, she was busy texting her friends and playing a game on a different device. The days of looking at the world around us while we travel are long gone, I guess.

All of this technology discussion is really about how much technology we use not only every day, but especially around the holidays. Everything from how we communicate with our friends and family, how we are able to get together with them (something I hope we never do only virtually), to the numerous technology gifts that are given and received during the holidays.

While I expect that there will be a number of digital gadgets in and around our family this holiday season, the magic that means the most is something that no technology can provide: an event with loved ones, a meal together, a walk on a sunny brisk day, making a snowman, sliding down a snowy hill.

So as you consider your technology gifts, consider how they will help you connect with the people who are important in your life. Will it bring you memories that you can cherish now and in a few years? Will it let you see how people have grown over the years? Will it give someone a smile when they open it and use it in the future?

For our family, the gifts of experiences and memories are the ones we're giving to each other this year — whether they require technology or not.

Happy holidays to everyone.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 29 December 2010.

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