Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hi-Tech and Hi-Touch

{This is another posting where I am pretty much ‘plagiarizing myself’… This is an updated version of a posting made ‘in another blog’ about a year ago, but it is particularly relevant to us today.}

"We must match our zeal for hi-tech with our passion for hi-touch lest we wire the world and short-circuit the soul."

With all the talk about FaceBook, Tweeter, on-line connection, etc., we really need to make sure we match our zeal for hi-tech with our passion for hi-touch lest we wire the world and short-circuit the soul.

This catchy – but all so true - statement is a combination of a theme from yesterday (John Nesbitt, the author of the book “Megatrends” released back in the 80’s) and a line I heard some young author say recently (I can’t remember her name.)

John Nesbitt – who is still very much around – was instrumental in foreshadowing the hi-tech boom of the latter part of the 20th century. He highlighted, however, that all the hi-tech in the world would be meaningless if we lose sight of the ‘human need’ to touch, feel, see eye-to-eye, and simply ‘be in the same physical space’. Twenty plus years after his famous book “Megatrends” I find myself reading “The Soul of a Leader: Finding Your Path to Success and Fulfillment” (by Margaret Benefiel.) She too reasserts that innate need we have for belonging, being with each other, and finding that inner strength that comes from our connection to others. While neither of these two books is directly about our field of community development, there is a third that brings these themes together in a very potent way. The name of the book is “The Paradox of Power: From Control to Compassion” by Michael H. Crosby. (Google him. He is a Franciscan priest in Milwaukee.) Simply a great, great read.

Also on point and probably more directly related to our field is the work being done by various organizations throughout the country that are trying to respond to the current seismic shift in the economy with a combination of “hi-tech & hi-touch”. One example is something being done right in our own backyard, Silver Spring.

You might have heard of the partnership called Neighbors Campaign. They are bringing together the best of ‘old school’ (door knocking) with the best of today’s social media (blogs). Door knocking presses the flesh; blogs link the bytes. Their charge is simple: Let neighbors know that others care, and welcome their participation in common action for their individual and collective wellness. The commitment is to do door knocks and – here’s where the hi-tech comes in – document the process to maximize others getting enthused about the Neighbors Campaign. You can view the blog at http://neighborscampaign.wordpress.com/

Yes, the door knocking and blogging also intends to bring residents news about what services are available to help them through their economic crisis. And yes, the County is a partner… But, infinitely more important is the enhanced sense of caring and empathy that our community will feel… To know that someone cares; to know where to turn for comfort; to know whose house the next convening is at where people will share stories and maybe offer a hand. Door knocks alone could not get us there; neither could blogs alone… It is the innovative combination of these ‘hi-tech’ / ‘hi-touch’ techniques that will make success possible.

When training door-knockers for whatever purpose, it is critically important to ask them to visualize the inside of the house after they walk away. How does the person that just closed the door feel? Are they (a) energized to join others in the process – regardless of their personal situation; or are they (b) left simply knowing what phone number to call for help? Have we left them with (a) a sense that – again, regardless of their personal situation – they have a lot to offer others; or are they left with (b) the sense things are bad and help is somewhere out there? If we left them with (b), it is not enough… We must leave them with (a): A sense that they have lots to offer and the excitement to do so.

When building a blog, it is critical that we drive people to people – not just to hyperspace. The blog is a tool for informing, yes. But, it is also a tool for exciting people to come together. And people come together in places and spaces where other people are: others’ living rooms; public spaces; the street corner happenstance gathering; accompanying others to do more door knocks; etc.

Hi-tech alone can be very efficient in mobilizing for action, getting many people to respond to an immediate situation, and disseminating information. But only good old fashion hi-touch can build long term sustainable relationships that will lead to systemic change in communities.

It is through a combination of these two venues (hi-tech and hi-touch) that the soul of the community is most effectively nourished.

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