I’ve had a number of rare book enthusiasts this past week tell me that the Collector Directory is a bad idea because “we don’t want to scroll through databases; we want to talk to real people.”
As if they’ve never used a phone book or a web search to look up a real person before.
Obviously there is a difference between interacting with someone online and interacting with them in real life. There’s a facet of human connection that is immeasurably amplified when two people share the same physical space with one another. No one will deny that, certainly not me.
But have we become so cynical that we think it beneath us to use a digital tool to discover and connect with the person with whom we wish to interact in real life? From old-school phone books to new-school search engines, we always build tools to find the people we want to connect with. That’s what humans do – we create tools to enhance the amount and the quality of our potential interactions.
And to suggest that somehow this new directory tool, this specific type of initial interaction, is somehow lesser than all the others we regularly use feels just a little out of place. I think more likely what we’re dealing with here is another thing we humans are notorious for: fear of change.
We are always wary of new technology, and we don’t trust what we can’t see. That’s a big reason why connecting with people online through our digital devices has always been fraught with difficulty – it’s going up against two innate fears all people have. It’s also why we still make such a clear and hard distinction between “online” and “in real life.”
I’m not going to go into all my past philanthropy projects, but I will say this: I’ve spent the past decade using digital technology to bring hundreds of thousands of people together in order to touch millions of lives, doing my best to blur the line between online interaction and real-world interaction. It can be done, and done well. I should know.
Let me end this thought with a simple question: Who among us has not read a particularly moving book, or listened to a song, or seen a film, or looked at a piece of art, and not felt a true connection with its author? We’ve been transmitting our humanity from one person to another through myriad mediums since the earliest cave drawings. Just because we’re now doing it through the internet shouldn’t make it any different, especially when the end goal of this project is to bring the right people together at the right time to form a real relationship around a shared interest.
Oh, and guess what? All those things I just mentioned are now quite often created, displayed, and consumed through a digital interface. Don’t look now, but we’re getting closer and closer to a new piece of truth:
Digital connection IS human connection.