In the mid-2000s, I was teaching in a Master’s Program in Helsinki, where students from around the world participated. One of the participants, who was from a non-European continent, began dating a local resident. When she was about to graduate, I asked if she planned to look for employment in Helsinki. She replied, “I don’t want to spend my life on Skype.”.
“Interesting perspective!” I thought. In work matters, my colleagues were a few offices away. Office communication was either face-to-face or by email. However, in my personal life, I was one of the happy users of Skype, daily being in touch with my family back in Romania. The temporary nature of my research contract didn’t make me overly concerned about relying on Skype. So, I assumed that, sooner or later, I’d return to my origins and desired face-to-face personal interactions with family members.
Fast forward over 15 years later, and I find myself having stayed longer in Helsinki, raising my children in the Finnish culture. Not only do the majority of my personal interactions occur online, but also my work-related activities are predominantly conducted in the digital realm. Throughout these years, we have witnessed remarkable technological advancements, including AI-enabled technologies, AR/VR/MR, robotics, and blockchain, among others. We have developed our prefered platforms of remote communication, social media, video sharing and online courses.
From time to time, I reflect on my former student’s dislike of a Skype-centric existence, wondering, “What’s wrong about a life where the boundaries between physical and digital merge?”.
This April, my family and I visited our friends in Ireland. During the stay, one of the kids got sick. Naturally, my first instinct was to whatsapp my cousin, who is a doctor relocated in Sweden. She comforted us with an initial online consultation.
For individuals like me, who have families and friends scattered across Europe and beyond, the internet connection and communication platforms enable us to share significant moments in our lives, though remotely. When my grandmother passed away, my cousin, sister and I couldn’t attend the funeral. Instead, we cried for hours online, reminiscing about our grandmother’s fascinating personality. Grandmother was the person who brought vitality and smiles in people’s hearts.
Of course, family moments are most meaningful, soothing and energizing when everyone is physically present in the same room. Think of the latest anniversary you spent with your family. What makes it truly unforgettable? Isn’t it so that being gathered around the cake and sharing in the excitement as the birthday hero blows out the candles is one of the best feelings?
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, I could not fathom myself sitting at home, conducting Zoom workshops for professionals residing in the USA or China, individuals I had never met before. The technology was there before the outbreak, but I couldn’t think of the possibility of working remotely from Finland with professionals located in other countries.
Now, I can clearly see that emerging technologies have empowered us to transform the way we work. For instance, Chat-GPT is a reliable assistant I can converse with when I feel blocked at the outset of a writing project. I ask questions, I read the answers and my creativity is back in flow.
The main limitations are our imagination, creativity and flexibility. If we were to embrace emerging technologies, how would we approach our jobs differently? To what extent are we willing to allow technology to reshape our professional identities?
Navigating our way through a digitalised life
What’s wrong with a life where our smartphones and laptops become our closest companions? Sometimes, I panic. A lot. A part of me rebels against the life I have. A sense of warmth fills my heart, ending in a whirlwind of emotions, as I revisit treasured childhood memories from a time when all the people I held dear resided within an area of 60 km. And yet, times have changed and the people I care about have chosen to live in different cities and countries where their needs are fulfilled. So, for some of us, digitalisation does something rather meaningful – it helps us reconcile the various facets of our identities – personal, social and professional.
Now and then, I think of my former student who didn’t want a life centered around Skype and with whom I stay connected through social media. We occasionally write comments on each other’s posts. In the past, Nokia connected people while today, it is digital platforms that bring us together. Instead of pondering, “What is wrong about a life where the boundaries between physical and digital blend?”, we can reflect on the following four questions:
- “What is the lifestyle that makes me feel comfortable?”
- “Which digital platforms, if any, do I favor, and in what ways do they contribute to my personal growth?”
- “What am I willing to do outside my comfort zone to invite new perspectives into my life?”
- “Where do I draw the line when it comes to embracing a digital life?”
Whatever you choose to do next, I hope you see the meaning of your choices.
This article was initially published on Linkedin.