... but can the village be digital?
We all know the old adagio “It takes a village to raise a child”. Recently, a revisited form of this old saying has been gaining popularity: “It takes a village to go through life”. This broadened concept conveys the idea that life as a whole (not only parenthood) is about community and that we all need a support system - or a village - to navigate through it successfully.
In today’s day and age, though, couldn’t our villages be digital?
Digital connections with people, facilitated through technology and the internet, offer several benefits. One of the most significant advantages is the global reach it provides. The convenience of online communication is also compelling as you can connect with people at any time, regardless of their location. This is particularly useful for maintaining relationships with individuals in different time zones, ensuring that you can stay in touch without the constraints of physical distance. A vast array of communication tools, including email, social media, video calls, and messaging apps, make it easy to stay connected with friends, family, and colleagues. These tools also facilitate professional networking and collaboration, allowing individuals to interact and work together efficiently.
Digital connections can foster social support through online communities and support groups. These platforms provide individuals facing similar challenges or interests with a space to connect, share experiences, and offer emotional support. This is particularly valuable for people dealing with health issues, mental health concerns, or niche hobbies. These connections are often more cost-effective than traditional communication methods. They can save money on long-distance phone calls, travel expenses, and postage. This makes them an economical way to maintain relationships and conduct business, reducing financial barriers to staying connected.
While these are all amazing benefits, the reality is that no digital connection can ever truly replace live, real-world ones.
There is a Japanese expression used in business and manufacturing realms: "Get to the gemba". The word "gemba" (現場) in Japanese means "the actual place" or "the real place." In a business or manufacturing setting, it refers to the location where work is happening, such as a factory floor, a shop floor, or any place where value is created or where a problem or process is occurring. The phrase "get to the gemba" emphasizes the importance of physically going to the place where work is being done or a problem is occurring to gain a firsthand understanding of the situation. It encourages managers, leaders, and employees to leave their offices and engage directly with the workers or processes on the ground. By doing so, they can observe, gather information, ask questions, and identify opportunities for improvement or problem-solving.
This “get to the gemba” concept has been around for decades, and while it’s mostly applicable in a business context, it exemplifies the idea that in some cases, nothing replaces being physically present.
Face-to-face interactions provide a level of depth and nuance that is often lacking in digital communication. In-person meetings allow for non-verbal cues, such as body language and facial expressions, to convey emotions and intentions more effectively. These cues can foster better understanding and empathy between individuals, leading to more authentic and meaningful connections. Real-world connections also promote genuine human connection and intimacy. Being physically present with someone allows for touch, eye contact, and shared physical experiences, which can strengthen bonds and create a sense of closeness that is challenging to replicate in the digital realm. This is particularly important for building and maintaining close relationships, such as with family and close friends.
Another significant advantage of real-world connections is reduced miscommunication. In digital interactions, there is a higher risk of misinterpreting messages due to the absence of tone and non-verbal cues. In-person communication minimizes these misunderstandings and leads to more effective and accurate information sharing. Being present also offers the opportunity for shared experiences and the creation of lasting memories. These shared moments can strengthen relationships, deepen connections, and provide a sense of fulfillment that digital interactions cannot fully replicate.
Physically interacting with other people also offers several biological benefits to the body and brain. Hugging, handshakes, or physical touch, can trigger the release of oxytocin, often referred to as the "love hormone" or "bonding hormone." Oxytocin promotes feelings of trust, connection, and social bonding, contributing to reduced stress and anxiety. It can lead to a decrease in the production of stress hormones, including cortisol. Lower stress hormone levels are associated with decreased stress and anxiety, as well as improved overall well-being.
Social interactions in real life can boost the immune system. Positive social experiences trigger the release of endorphins, which have an immunomodulatory effect and can enhance the body's ability to defend against illness. Engaging in conversations and activities with others in person challenges the brain and promotes cognitive stimulation. These interactions can improve memory, problem-solving skills, and overall cognitive function.
While these biological benefits highlight the importance of real-life human interactions, perhaps the most important benefit cannot be measured: the sense of belonging. Strong social bonds and relationships can reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness, promoting overall well-being.
Human beings were not made to live in isolation, and while a digital community can be beneficial, it can never really replace your village.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Who is your village? Have you been intentional about connecting with people around you in the real world? What can you do to deepen your connections with the ones who are physically around you?
An accomplished translator and writer, Cami has been in the creative field for nearly two decades. Her experience as a linguist in several fields, paired with her background as a native Latina immigrant (born and raised in Brazil and naturalized American citizen) gives her a unique perspective on the social and cultural context of our society. She has been with Techless since 2022 and currently lives in Michigan with her husband of twelve years, their eight-year-old son, and their puppy Oreo.