Why technology will never be able to replace the power of human interactions

© Motivate Publishing Life together with technology connection

I watched an interesting Netflix documentary the other night, about mushrooms. Bear with me. The documentary highlights how fungi – somewhere between plant and animals – are at the beginning and end of every exchange of energy on the planet – aka life and death.

More pertinently to my point, mushrooms and fungi support the natural networking between trees in forests thanks to incredibly complex subterranean systems known as the mycorrhizal network – the ‘wood wide web’, allowing an entire forest to be connected and to communicate.

It’s tempting to draw parallels between humanity, forest networks and the connectivity enabled by technology. The human race connects through the exchange of information and our community and wider networks. The internet is a ‘web’ of interconnected computers, servers and smartphones.

We do, on a surface level at least, function in similar ways to forest and digital networks. Where the similarities end is that each human being is an individual in his or her own right, and around them, their communities and groups are also distinct, with specific beliefs, values, cultures and so forth.

While today we connect ‘virtually’ to learn, share ideas and exchange goods and information, a cornerstone of humanity has always been the ability to generate ideas through interaction. The speakers, but also the participants at GITEX, represent an opportunity for this to happen organically. It simply isn’t possible to have those ‘a-ha’ moments of serendipity and creativity during a scheduled video call or on social media. They do not replace the power of organic, human networking. Conversations about the startup funding ecosystem in the Middle East need to be built on a foundation of trust, and virtual conversations support but never replace that.

This week, the Procurified team has been at GITEX, indisputably the largest tech show of the year.  We are meeting with investors – and as any founder and investor understands – there’s no digital or virtual replacement for face-to-face connection when it comes to pivotal business decisions.

AT GITEX, leaders from the largest digital technology companies are speaking on a range of topics spanning the entirety of the post-pandemic digital landscape.

Tech startups are able to exchange information and get real-time insights into the ecosystem in the Middle East.

From fintech and blockchain, to deep dives into cybersecurity, telecommunications and the ramifications of digital technology in industries including healthcare, construction and education, GITEX offers serious bang for your bitcoin.

Trade shows have taken on an added layer of meaning since the pandemic thanks to significantly reduced opportunities for in-person networking due to the pandemic.

We’ve all become much more aware of just how valuable and irreplaceable an in-person connection is. This is true whether we are a lonely gig economy worker whose work-life boundary has become blurred thanks to working from home, or a luxury retailer whose revenues of indulgent goods – high-end timepieces, supercars, or monogrammed suitcases, still largely depend on the personal touch of an experienced salesperson in an actual boutique. While there’s a world of opportunity to be explored and harnessed thanks to social media, video-conferencing and cloud-based networking, technology companies have yet to convincingly recreate the effect of face-to-face human interaction.

No technology replaces face to face

The power of videoconferencing, for example, has transformed the possibilities of doing business, but the medium challenges us in other ways. Despite the turbo-charged developments in virtual communication over the past two years, human brains haven’t evolved to match, and so we are faced with a peculiar set of challenges despite all the benefits that this technology bestows on us.

Nonverbal cues are harder to interpret, which means our brains have to work harder to understand the communication. Our DNA is hard-wired for face-to-face communication in one on one or small group settings; being expected to sit still, and communicating while seeing a mini version of ourselves is unnerving – even the most focused mind must feel a degree of tension when delivering an important message in this way. Even the issue of eye contact – such a vital part of human interaction – poses problems. With most of our cameras slightly askew, we find ourselves talking with others who seem to be looking just to the left, right, above or below us.

When we connect in person, especially with a stranger, the ability to establish trust, make a first impression and grow a connection is simply much greater. It’s why trade shows continue to exist and thrive – even the most digitally-savvy men and women in the world continue to value the opportunity to gather in one place and connect face to face. At GITEX, that translates into more than 3,000 tech companies taking part – many using the trade show to announce key breakthroughs in 5G, AI, cloud and edge, cybersecurity, future mobility, fintech, healthcare and to build a web of connection that supports a vibrant and dynamic ecosystem.

Marc Lemmens is the cofounder of Procurified