What does it mean to be connected now? After attending the Institute of Directors Open House event, Your Favourite Story explore how we identify with the world and each other, in times of our technological revolution.

How do we identify with the world around us?

It’s one of the oldest questions in the book, but no easier to answer with the arrival of GPS, location tracking or Find My Friends. In fact, these are tools based on the principle of connection. But as I walk across the streets of London, I can’t help notice the magnitude of people looking downwards, more attached to the A6 simulated world clasped in their hands than they are to anything around them. A young girl is focusing with such intent on the number of Instagram followers she gained after her latest post, she doesn’t notice her oldest friend walking past.  A businesswoman is so invested on what her colleague has shared on Twitter, that she doesn’t hear her son who is eagerly telling her about his day at school.

It is this that leads me to my next question: what does it mean to be connected now? Most of us are ardently aware that the technological revolution is shaping a new kind of virtual world, but has enough thought been given towards the fact that a new reality will mean a completely new way of connecting to each other?  Interestingly, the word ‘connect’ comes from the Latin ‘con’ and ‘nectere’, meaning to bind together physically. So how can this word be applied to a world where we can be linked up, despite being physically far apart?

This question came to mind when attending the Institute of Directors Open House event on the 14th March 2018, at 116 Pall Mall, London. As a graduate just three days into an internship, this was a rather unexpected event to find myself at. I don’t run my own company and I wasn’t there to exchange business tactics with the titans of London. However, as the day progressed, I began to think that my unique positioning in such a context might give me something that others didn’t have: a unique perspective. With talks that focused heavily on forward thinking, such as ‘The Rise of the Robot’, ‘Disrupting the System’ and ‘The Rise of Millennials’, you certainly got the sense that Britain’s oldest business organisation was trying to modernise itself. What’s more is that this is not surprising, when you consider the innovative endeavours the IoD have embarked on in the last year or so e.g. forming the IoD 99 (a network focused solely on transforming start-ups into scale-ups.)  Whilst this would have naturally encouraged business leaders to think ‘how can we connect with the young and keep up with the times?’, I started to question the reverse: how can the younger generations take old values and make them work in a rapidly changing, tech centric world that they were never created for? How can we exist in a fully digital world, and at the same time keep sight of those raw, human, emotional connections?

Interestingly, it was after this question entered my mind that I started to see the IoD Open House in a new light. Rather than perceiving a sole focus on tech and modernisation, I noticed an intersection between old and new: something traditional moving forwards but also trying to keep hold of the core values that are the reasons for its existence. Fittingly, this was reflected in various aspects of the event. Electronic music played throughout the breaks and speeches were presented on big digital screens, but this was against a backdrop of Victorian chandeliers, golden drapes and tall oak doors. Hyped, a University of Edinburgh student society, were exhibiting their Hyperloop prototype downstairs, enthusiastically informing attendees about the future of electrically propelled tech.  Lining the walls behind them, however, were portraits of the military throughout history, reminding everyone that the venue was once used to house meetings between senior officials.

All of this contributed to a sense of the old and new coming together, but it was exactly this togetherness that gave the event a whole new look. It wasn’t one or the other; it was the combination of both that I found inspiring. Perhaps this reflects the nature of business itself – leaders are increasingly becoming aware that to understand the future of their business impact, they must first understand the people that their businesses will impact in the future. However, it is also the case that for a young entrepreneur to recognise how to build a business, they must initially comprehend what happened before they got there.

And ultimately businesses are just like people – because they are formed by people. In recognition of this, I wonder if there is another dimension of connection which isn’t just digital or just physical, but both. I am standing in a crowd at a gig, and everyone around me is so busy filming the artist on stage and sharing this moment with their friends, that they’re not really watching the artist at all. When I apply this situation to the two biggest fears of the 21st century (fear of being offline and fear of missing out) I can’t help but find this slightly ironic, because it is ‘online attachment’ which is causing people to miss out watching the artist they paid £200 to come and see. Research states that the implosion of social media has made FOMO a bigger issue, and in a new paper by Clinical Psychological Science, researchers have found that the generation born after 1995 (iGens), are more likely to experience mental health than their millennial predecessors. Whilst these figures suggest that people think about connection differently today, it also indicates that online connection does not exclusively solve people’s ability to feel a sense of belonging in the world.

It leaves us in a state where we cannot move at all and yet be in a totally different place. IoD’s HQ, for instance, has not moved since the 1970’s, 116 Pall Mall. Technically, it’s still there. And yet today, according to new-era addressing startup, What3Words, the building can be found precisely by using three simple words: Clouds Admit Glee.

Perhaps it’s merely the language of connection that’s changing, rather than the fundamentals underneath it…