Virtual versus Real World

Today most of our life is virtual. We spend more time with our mobile phones than even with our near and dear ones. I sometimes wonder if this is good or bad. This question has been asked by one of my colleagues from Germany too. Technology has helped us bridge people across the world and there is no doubt that is is efficient and cost effective. Now, let us try to understand whether this is positive or otherwise.

I remember an incident, which happened in my life almost three decades back. I used to work in the steel plant. We did not have computers in those days at work. We used to mostly communicate by writing notes to each other on paper. Once I wrote a long and creative note to my colleague as I had a different view point on a work related issue. We exchanged a few notes between us till we were both summoned by our HR head. We thought he was impressed with our writing skills. But we were in for a surprise.

Our boss enquired whether we both sat in the same office on the same floor. After confirming that he stated that he had an advice for us. He said that this is the last time he wanted to see a note exchanged between us on any work conflict. He said since both of you sit on the same floor, you should, as the first step walk across and talk to each other and resolve issues on any subject. In case, you cannot do that since you sit in different office, he said, you can pick up the phone and talk to each other and settle the matter. In case, you cannot talk to each other since you are in different cities or due to any other reason, you may think of writing a note to each other. This was a great lesson for life. I try to follow it even today and encourage my team to do so.

This was a learning for a life time. He explained that the best way to interact with another individual at work or outside is face to face. The next best was on phone and the least effective could be through written notes. He further made us realize how face to face communication makes us understand each other’s emotions and hence we empathize better. In case of phone, there is an opportunity to clarify doubts verbally although non verbal messages cannot be seen. However in written communication, we can neither feel the emotions nor see the expressions. It could be the least preferred option and used only when there is no better option available to us.

In today’s world, most of our interactions are in the virtual world. While it is efficient and effective in terms of reach and cost, it may not be real sometimes. For eg, while we may all have hundreds of friends on Facebook and whatsapp online, we may not get many people to visit us, when we are hospitalised or we are in a crisis at home. While we may receive get well messages online, we may not feel cared as much as when our friends visit us in person during such times.

This example illustrates that the positive of the virtual world is also its speed. However, it does not help us exchange feelings. As human beings, we are born with emotions and we all have emotional needs in all our relationships. Hence, the learning is that we have to find the right balance between the real and the virtual world. While virtual is fast and cheap, it is generally emotion less.

We may effectively use the virtual world to stay connected but we should not forget to meet and greet people around us every day whenever it is feasible as exchange of emotions are the bedrock of any relationship and no emoticons can substitute it.

S Ramesh Shankar


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