Digital technology is a blessing and a curse.
The blessing is that it gives us the ability to stay connected with loved ones across the miles. A parent traveling on business can read a book over Skype to a sleepy child at home. Amazing.
But there are pitfalls.
One hazard is that we can filter out voices we don’t want to hear, insulating ourselves in “echo chambers,” connecting only with those with whom we agree. Another hazard is anonymity—online comment sections are littered with unfettered hostility because participants don’t have to own what they say.
We would be wise to remember that digital tools are enhancements, not replacements for the most sophisticated communication tool ever invented: the human body. Emoticons are not emotions; your Facebook page is not your face.
That’s why I’m passionate about our in-person engagement programs like Civil Dialogue, which brings people of all stripes together in the same room, respectfully exchanging views on controversial topics. But we realize that technology is here to stay, so we are also exploring ways to translate the core values of civil in-person communication to civil online communication.
What Edward R. Murrow said about television in 1958 still applies to technology today: “This instrument can teach … illuminate … inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box.”
Murrow’s “wires and lights” are now microchips, but the challenge remains: It’s not the apps, it’s how we use them that matters.