Show of hands how many of you actually know your neighbors? If you do know the people who live exactly next door to you, now think about those that live three houses down from you? Do you know them?

If your representative of a recent study highlighted in an article from the Atlantic called “Why Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, about 30% of you don’t know your neighbors. I’m not surprised by this statistic at all.

I was a military brat for most of my childhood. Up until high school we didn’t live next door to anybody for any great length of time. The last place my parents lived, Ohio, they lived there about 40 years and were very close to their neighbors. My own experience here in South Carolina, where I have lived for 20 years in the same house, is I know the neighbors, but I’m not friends with them.

Social is a Zero Sum Game

But here’s the interesting thing and the point of this post.  The article suggests that we don’t know our neighbors anymore because we can only manage so much social capital. In other words, there’s a certain limit the time and attention we can spend with people other than ourselves or our immediate families. I think this borrows heavily from the idea of the “Dunbar Number” – the theoretical limit to the number of close relationships we have. In Dunbar’s case the limit was based on the number of connections (ie: people) – this discussion focuses on the limit of what they call “social capital.”  The speculation is that the more time we spend on social networks, twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, pinterest, etc. burns up social capital. And if you think of social capital like a bank account, each time we connect, regardless of the method, we deduct from that account. Therefore, the more spend in the digital social world – the LESS time we have for Face-2-Face in the analog, real world.

In other words, attention and connection with individuals is a zero-sum game. Where I do spend time “socializing” takes away from other places I could spend time.

Not Just Personal – It’s Professional Too

I find this interesting, not just from a sociological standpoint in our personal lives, but whether this occurs in our professional lives as well? I’ve been banging the drum for about 2 to 3 years that technology is getting in the way of being human. It’s making it more difficult for us to connect and engage both professionally and personally. I think this article on the Atlantic is validation that technology is robbing us of how we need to connect to be more human.

So the question you have to ask yourself: Is my spending so much time online limiting my ability to have face-to-face and one-on-one relationships professionally and personally?

I see how companies are adding more and more technology to the mix to make human beings more efficient in their jobs. That additional technology comes packaged with ability to connect with people digitally, whether that be on instant messaging apps like yammer or through shared workplace apps like Slack or Evernote. And that is taking the place of what we normally would’ve done with face-to-face meetings or phone calls. And therefore we are missing out on learning and knowing about the individuals we work with.

I think this is a critical element in the whole engagement discussion as it relates to employees. In fact, I’m doing webinar tomorrow at 3 o’clock Eastern time about something called a Stay Interview. Here’s a link to the description, timing and pricing for that webinar. The webinar will last about 90 minutes and it will address this idea that we need to have more conversations, one-on-one, human to human, in order to drive better retention, less turnover and better engagement within our organizations.

I think we are trading out human to human interaction for technologically enabled interaction. And because it’s a zero-sum game we can’t get that human to human connection back.

stayinterview buttonI hope you take the time to plug in tomorrow and listen to me talk about the Stay Interview process. It’s not going to be your normal webinar regurgitation on how to do it. I’m going to get into the human psychological principles around the idea of conversation and connection between human beings. I think it will be fascinating just for the psychology of it. But for those of you that are looking for a to do list. There will be some tactical information involved as well.

Anyway click here to sign up. Hope to talk to you tomorrow at 3 PM.

In the meantime start thinking about the sum total of your interactions on a day-to-day basis, both personally and professionally. See if you can dial up the face-to-face  (that can be phone calls) and dial down the digital.

Human beings were meant to be analog.

We are adaptable and that’s what’s allowed us to become what we are today, but sometimes we need to kind of dial it down a little bit and become what we were yesterday.

Which is (was) a group of people sitting around a campfire telling stories and bonding.

Go do that. After you sign up for my webinar tomorrow of course.