Some three decades ago, I had the opportunity to dine with Dr. Arno Penzias, then Chief Scientist of Bell Laboratories. Now I’ll admit that there are a lot of rings on this tree, so to speak, and lots of the younger generation won’t know who he is or for that matter what Bell Labs was; that’s another story and a great loss for science. Just a little background on Dr. Penzias. He, along with Robert Woodrow Wilson discovered “cosmic microwave background radiation” that led to the establishment of the “Big Bang Theory”; not the TV show but the background noise or echo of the biggest shebang ever.
So why am I telling you this now? We are in the midst of a big bang of our own and my dinner conversation with Dr. Penzias centered around the opportunity we have before us via Social Media. He, at the time, the mid-80’s, had the greatest job on the planet. He lived in Palo Alto and his sole focus was to be tuned into “what was coming next” from a technology perspective. Our dinner conversation centered around the proliferation of faster and more advanced networks and when I presented the statement that we were becoming more “distanced” due to many options via cable TV and other things that drove us apart as friends and family, he pushed back.
I still remember his bold statement; “Mankind and society are on the verge of being the most connected we’ve ever been in the history of the world”. That was my big bang moment because he didn’t stop there. He went on to describe the eventual formation of groups sharing common interests and the establishment of forums for discussion, idea exchange and even online or networked marketplaces. Sound familiar; and this was in the mid-80’s! Dr. Penzias was my hero and I cannot for the life of me remember any negatives from our conversation regarding what was happening to connect us. No Russians, no internet trolls, none of that came out. I think he, like some of our contemporary technologists, looked to our “better angles” and past the darker side of things.
Let’s segway to my trip yesterday to the local Kroger store. In addition to learning that the potential demise of civilization in some way involves the lack of toilet paper. I also learned that young people – teenagers and younger – are struggling with the anxiety of what we are all experiencing. While maintaining “social distancing”, I spoke to several parents who said their children were dealing with WFH parents and study from home well enough. Several confirmed that internet access was sometimes sketchy for both WFH applications and school (see my Riverbed Client Accelerator write-up from several days ago). But this is the interesting thing. Every parent said that their children were dealing with their anxieties by coming together in “community” with their friends using technology.
Later I get home and my wife has PBS Newshour on and a piece is running about Yo-Yo Ma and how he is supporting us via the establishment of “community”. Ma, as you may know, was a child prodigy performing at the age of 4 and then going on to graduate from The Juilliard School and Harvard University. He plays a mean Cello. But he has started posting video clips at #SongsofComfort and is encouraging others to do the same on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or as he says, “Whatever”. Check out the interview at PBS.ORG.
Community is more important now than it has ever been. How we think about it presents us with an opportunity to redefine what it is and how we become a participant. I encourage you to use the technology you have in your homes, on your computers and in your hands. FaceTime is an amazing opportunity to commune. To tell the truth, I had a virtual St. Patrick’s Day drink with a friend the other night when things freed up a bit and when I disconnected it felt great. Reach out to a neighbor, an older family member, a friend and be a part of this new and evolving form of community.
Let our better angles shine and let social networking play a part.
Be well and practice smart, safe collaboration in these interesting times.