Casey Butler Harwood

Is a Digital Connection Enough?

I consider myself a traveler. That used to mean that I trotted the globe. Now, it means that my family and I roam the contiguous United States from time to time, in various vehicles and a consistent, CDC-approved bubble. We recently spent about five months exploring the West Coast in our RV, from which I continued to work full-time as a writer and brand manager for Drawn. After that, we moved to a new state, which meant that I’d pretty much be working remotely forevermore. I think that’s why Bryan asked me to address the question of whether a digital connection is enough  — because my connections, both work and otherwise, have been digital for the better part of two years now.

As I imagine many of us do, I have some long-distance relationships in my personal life that have been strictly “digital” for years now — some that began in person, some that have always lived within technology, many that even predate COVID. They’re carefully tended to and kept alive with a steady (if not frequent) stream of text messages, emails, Instagram quick replies, and even the occasional phone call.

And as for professional relationships, well, I used to be a freelance journalist and I worked with plenty of editors who I’ve never met face to face. Now, my Drawn coworkers and I chat daily about everything from package design to our kids’ sleep schedules. We collaborate effectively, brainstorming across vast expanses thanks to lightning-fast internet and clunky mobile hotspots alike. Some days, we wear clothes that make us mourn the days when people could see below our ribcages. Other days, we’re seen sporting the same thing we wore for a run earlier that morning.

In the “before times,” almost the entire Drawn team worked from the Bard (Drawn’s HQ) full-time. Yes, our hours were flexible, but most of us kept pretty regular ones at our claimed and decorated desks. We wore real pants and conversed over coffees, burritos, and Laughing Planet. (Oh, how I miss Laughing Planet.) Yes, it’s different now.

In the "before times," a happy hour at ColdFire, or one of our other favorite local breweries, was where we came up with some of our most creative ideas.

In some ways, these remote engagements have afforded us greater privacy, clearer delineation of work versus life. But mostly, I’m of the opinion that they have blurred the perimeters of my home… office. Now, when I join someone for a meeting, they can see what my guest room looks like. They may see three coffee mugs behind me. They recognize the sound of my children’s voices. Sure, I can press the mute button and turn off my camera; I can write without giving the person standing behind me a sneak peek at the latest Drawn blog post. But really, the me that they’re seeing is the true me. The one who opted for a run instead of a shower this morning and then tried to make my hair presentable. The one who chose to be on time for a client rather than to whisk those three coffee mugs away to the kitchen — because I clearly didn’t have time for both. This me, at home, is irrepressible and if you’re paying attention, you’ll see her in a way that you may not have at the office, where professional cleaners are a thing, along with a dress code, albeit loose. Where we’re all blissfully ignorant of my children’s refusal to eat lunch and no one knows that my house is under construction.

Maybe it’s thanks to this inadvertent, often overlooked authenticity that we still form connections — even strong attachments — to people with whom we share “only” a digital connection. Maybe it’s simply in our nature to grab onto any sort of human connection and hold it tightly. 

Humans are, in fact, social creatures. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Socializing not only staves off feelings of loneliness, but also it helps sharpen memory and cognitive skills, increases your sense of happiness and well-being, and may even help you live longer. In-person is best, but connecting via technology also works.”

So, a digital connection — is it enough? I think that the answer is a resounding “sometimes.” I think that it depends on the connection in question, the purpose it serves, the two (or more) individuals involved, and a whole lot of other variables. Joining your coworkers for a happy hour via Zoom may not be the same as a team rendezvous at the local brewery, but if it’s all that we have, then yes, I think that it’s enough.

What do you think?