Are digital relationships sustainable?

I’m on a kind of forced holiday while my new home is being renovated. Being away from broadband much of the time has been interesting, to put it mildly. For donkey’s …

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13th August 2007 at 10:28 am

I’m on a kind of forced holiday while my new home is being renovated. Being away from broadband much of the time has been interesting, to put it mildly. For donkey’s years, I’ve been one of those “always on” people. A large proportion of my conversation, research and business transactions have been conducted electronically rather than face-to-face.

Reflecting on those years, I’d say that the most sustainable relationships are those where periodic contact and bonding takes place face-to-face. To give an example, Marck is a programmer and he and I first met over 25 years ago. We met maybe four or five times over the next fifteen years but about ten years ago, we went into partnership to create some software. About six years ago, we started publishing the fruits of our labours. We are still working together although we have probably only met face to face about seven or eight times during that ten years and phone calls are exceedingly rare – usually of the “any idea why the server’s gone down?” variety. Most communication is by email or Skype instant messaging.

In a wired world where the talent we need, or can afford, is distributed widely, this is likely to be an increasingly common pattern. I have been working for the past year with someone in America. Same thing. Oliver and I met twice although he does occasionally call me for a chat using Skype. This relationship started online and developed over several months to the point where we wanted to do business together before we actually met.

Paradoxically, you can get a lot closer to people online than you can face-to-face. A woman in the Netherlands and I made contact through a mutual interest in the same (technical) subject. Before you knew it, our conversations extended into our respective private lives. We were able to discuss some important but very personal issues, topics that would never have surfaced in the same amount of face-to-face time. A true meeting of minds without the distractions of bodies and the surroundings. When we met face-to-face, several months later, we greeted each other like old friends. (Although she did later admit to her surprise at my height, or lack of it.)

A lot of business people believe that the internet, especially social stuff, is time-wasting. Others think that face-to-face is the only way to start a proper commercial relationship. I would argue that they are both wrong. The social stuff connects birds of a feather together and face-to-face can always follow an online encounter if it’s considered important enough.

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David Tebbutt is an award-winning columnist and feature writer who specialises on the subject of using software and technology to increase business productivity. He's an analyst with Freeform Dynamics but, in previous lives, wrote for Director magazine, Real Business and was also editor of Personal Computer World. http://freeformdynamics.com

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  1. […] David Tebbutt is an award-winning columnist and feature writer who specialises on the subject of using software […]

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