As an old guy (which I never thought I’d be), I’m greatly concerned about the increasing de-humanization of business and the isolation of the small businessperson. This is a cultural shift—and, in my estimation, a very negative one.
One day I was walking down the street of the residential neighborhood where my daughter, her husband and their children live. I asked my son-in-law why there were no kids outside playing. He answered that most of the kids were in the house playing computer games. It was about 7 p.m. on a beautiful summer night, the kind of night we would have been riding our bikes, playing baseball, tag or hide and seek. But in their neighborhood, there were no kids outside. They were isolated, interacting with a screen.
Not long after that, I went to a Chamber of Commerce monthly mixer, where the attendance was about 125—a good crowd by today’s standards. In the 1980s a good crowd was 400. I then attended a study group of CPAs, our monthly, continuing education get-together, and raised the issue of new joiners. The average age of the group is well over 55, and no one under 40 has joined in years. This is a wonderful forum for the exchange of ideas, and the younger generation is missing out on it. Conversely, we’re missing out on their perspective.
What’s happened to our society? I think we’ve lost the sharing of our humanness and the value of interaction to techno-foolishness and isolationism. It appears that the average new business is conducted out of a back bedroom, online and with no human contact whatsoever. Is this what we want as a society?
I, for one, practicing both accounting and law, will not accept, nor deal with, a client who won’t meet in-person at the outset, and then periodically from then on. There’s a good reason for this: I want to see their eyes and have them see mine; I want to judge honesty and other traits, and I want them to be able to judge me.
The online mentality, a brainchild of recent years, is driven by a desire for efficiency, I understand. But it’s also fueled by a desire to limit human contact to only that which benefits us directly and lets us escape easily when finished. Granted, this has its attraction, but think of the negatives.
My business as a professional has been built on relationships. How can you have a relationship with a person you’ve never met? How can a CPA, attorney, investment advisor or other professional in service to others, judge risk tolerance, honesty, integrity and all the other important characteristics of a client—and how can a client make those judgments about his advisors?—without being face-to-face?
The Internet is great for research and information gathering (if you know how to filter raw data and other information that’s completely unscreened). But would you really, intelligently, trust a professional whom you’ve never met on the basis of a website (probably built by someone motivated only by the amount he is being paid to construct it and get it the most “hits”)?
My concern is that our society, as a whole, is increasingly isolated by our culture’s obsession with technology. The children of today are the businesspeople of tomorrow. If adults are overly enamored with technology at the cost of becoming dehumanized, how much more so are childen who know no other way of life?
Kids who would have, in my day, gone to play at a friend’s house, now wander the malls yakking on their cellphones or texting each other, saying nothing of import, but they are thrilled because they are on a tech instrument. They then cut off their “friends” when they are done having said what they wanted by hanging up. Is this a real relationship? A kid today will happily text his “friend” as long as he can keep him or her at arm’s length, and respond or not, based on how he feels. Is this fostering real friendship or good business in the future? I say it’s not.
Lawrence A. “Larry” Kropp practices as both an attorney and a CPA in Santa Rosa. His main areas are business transactions, estate planning and administration and tax planning, with an emphasis on pointing out issues to clients and helping them making good decisions. Larry’s office is at 438 1st Street, 4th floor in Santa Rosa. (707) 523-4555; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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