Is moving work online really best for society?
When I was a kid growing up in Williamsville, New York, a northern suburb of Buffalo that cut into a swath of farmland not far from the shores of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and Niagara Falls, our days were filled with human contact. We played games like kick the can, freeze tag, and smear the queer (now referred to as dodgeball). We knew ALL our neighbors too, not just the ones nearest us, but on our block and the next block over. Our parents were active with the schools and in the community in general. We had the technology of course like TV and telephones (Rotary telephones even). But generally, after school, we were outside, no matter what the season. We greeted everyone, including strangers and we would have yearly block parties usually at the end of July. What a truly wonderful childhood it was.
These days technology has increased with the internet and all its newfound applications that have made our lives easier. In the wake of Covid-19, our lives moved largely indoors: schooling, communication, voting, and shopping were done online or through delivery services. As we try to get on with our lives, many new business models have come out extolling the virtues of online work and its seeming superiority to the "old way" of doing business.
While there are certainly many advantages to online work, such as, being able to spend more time with family and saving money on gas and other expenditures, we have lost the sense of personal connection to the outside world. Social media has become anti-social media with traditional media outlets competing with online media to get stories out the fastest, they have sacrificed integrity and truth for being first. Divisions are growing to the point that when discussing anything online, people are quick to take offense and we block opposition and retreat to our little ideological bubble to brood over the insensitivities of other people. We are no longer self-reflective or trusting of people we meet. But why is this?
I will ponder to guess that it has a lot to do with our obsession with technology like computers and smartphones, replacing outside play with a neighbor to inside smartphone video games with strangers. We have replaced neighborly discussion with social media ranting and argumentation coupled with name calling and personal attacks. Notice I say we because obviously, I am a part of this problem.
While I am not trying to denigrate remote work or learning, after all, I do have an online English language immersion program that I have been building since September of last year. But it isn't the same. Though Home English Language Practice (HELP) provides the opportunity for foreign language learners to interact with me and other learners who speak in varied accents to practice oral language, and even though we have become a sort of extended family, we still don't really know each other. That knowledge of one another comes through an intimate connection that is not only visual and auditory but is tactile, gustatory, and olfactory. All the senses are necessarily stimulated in order to connect and in the case of HELP to learn a language like a native speaker.
I believe the way to master communication is through intimate connection, story-telling, and laughter. Given this, learning becomes innate and effortless. It is the foundation of my vision for Home English Language Practice (HELP). The divisions we see around the world are distressing. Moving online, as a language teacher is tough because deep down, language is learned best through close contact and interaction within the culture of that language.
Our mission is clear: bring the world together, make connections, make friends and create a family through communication in a foreign language. We don't ignore our differences nor do we skate around difficult issues because it is in the passion of the moment, that the learner becomes the coach and guide. In their passion, we see our common humanity and we become family. Aside from learning English, our learners and I learn about other people around the world. That is how we come together. That is how connect. That is how we truly grow! and become a family.
I will leave this with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King that is my favorite. Regarding the nature and origins of hatred and racism, he said: "I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other.”
This week I have been more outgoing than ever to get to know all my neighbors. To greet them, interact with them, and compliment them. It's time to stop ignoring our neighbors and dividing ourselves into groups. It's time to uplift one another and search for common values. I pray that each day will be transformational and we will become more united than ever.