It crossed my mind recently that we may be losing our ability to build relationships without the guidance of technology. Perhaps this isn’t a new revelation, but it is one that is currently jabbing me in the heart as I both passively observe human interactions and reactions as well as contemplate my own. Something has changed. It is saturating the air and affecting our every breath. It’s not new information, it has been evolving, as trends do, slowly, but has reached a pinnacle on the cusp of wide adoption and it is important we address this with humble, intelligent urgency. Social media has all at once created social connectivity, in a profoundly exciting way, while also creating a socio-emotional disconnect that is profoundly disturbing. Is there a way to forge forward in technological advancement while responsibly shifting direction to address the world’s most important overarching issue, the future of relationships?

Esther Perel, a Belgian psychotherapist notable for her exploration of interpersonal relationships, recently gave a keynote at SXSW. Audience members lined up around the block anxious to hear her words of wisdom. Here’s one, “the quality of your relationships determines the quality of your life.” She went on to talk about how we need to bring relationships to the heart of our occupations and pre-occupations and that listening is our first and most primal sense. If we listen deeply to others, not only is humanity revealed, we are also able to better see ourselves as well as understand otherness and difference.

Optimization Fail

Technology has led to a grave optimization fail in that relationships take time. This only does not compute in our world of more, better, faster, now, options, options, and more options. While social media and AI are successfully speaking to our human need for adventure, novelty, change, mystery, freedom, and autonomy, it has yet to successfully address our other need for security, predictability, anchor, safety, rootedness, belonging and protection in any significant and meaningful way.  Relationships are our story. We need community, and we need our relationships to exist within a larger social context beyond the screen and beyond any screen induced contrived meet-up.

Story Making

Fact rant: online communication is massively distorted. Online social networking is fraught with false realities. Our Instagram lives are curated, crafted, and filtered. No one knows what truly goes on in the lives of others. Wait, wasn’t that the whole point? Like Mr. Rogers, says, “It’s hard not to like someone once you know their story.” The allure of simpler times beckons. But so does the allure of technology advancement, especially when it comes to AI and finding ways to enhance our lives as well as simplify them. How do we strike a perfect balance? We have become amazing storytellers; look at our friends’ Instagram stories!  Are we truly getting a glimpse into the lives of others? Maybe one way to move ahead with the comfort of the past and the excitement of the future is to start making stories together. For simplicity, let’s call it, story making.

The hype of the experience economy has perked up our ears. We are listening and watching, but much of what we are seeing is an oversaturation of highly styled Instagram worthy events that are F-U-N and allow the host to gain valuable exposure through influencer marketing. Cool, sure, but is there a story? And more importantly, is there a story people want to hear?

One of my favorite examples of how a great story can change and enhance perception is the literary and anthropological experiment, Significant Objects. Nearly a decade old, this experiment’s inherent value and commentary on human behavior is timeless. Objects were purchased at garage sales and thrift stores for an average of a dollar and change. Objects were then given a story, and the story and object were put up on e-bay. When consumers were able to connect to an object through a relatable story, the perceived value of that object increased significantly.

REI also famously included their consumer back in 2015 when they opted out of Black Friday, with the, “Opt Outside” campaign.  REI stores and website were closed, instead of asking customers to head outdoors. This encouraged behavior change and gave people the tools to do something different with their time. The first campaign was an overwhelming success and has continued each year. The 2017 campaign included a platform for consumers to tell their own stories (story making!) of outdoor adventures.

Takeaway

For PR and marketing pros, we not only need to involve our customers in the story, but we must also create stories that have messages that address the desires, challenges and unmet needs of our client. Don’t just tell a story; let the customer finish the story by making their real-life experiences central to its development.

We’re at a point in technological evolution where broad adoption of AI is wonder-inducing, where machine emotional intelligence (EI) is on the horizon, and machines are evolving to react to human physical and emotional wellbeing. So, with devices becoming emotionally intelligent, how will human behavior respond and how will that impact our evolution? If we cede our humanity to machines and “let them” take over, they will. If we can hold onto Esther Perel’s message that, “the quality of your relationships determines the quality of your life,” and take the time to make stories together, we may be able to evolve in symbiosis with our EI counterparts and live happily ever after.