I totally agree with Kathy here — Why face-to-face still matters! And she outlines some psychological and neurological research to back up a notion that so obviously makes good sense.
Many times many people have told me that with all these online tools (email, database mining, blogs, wikis, IM/IRC, discussion lists, web forums, cell phones, tele/video conferencing, webcasts, podcasts, blablabla … ) we don’t need to travel as much — if at all — to customers, conferences, user groups, and even family. We have access to all this data and intelligence, and we’re all connected digitally so why meet physically? Also, everything is so distributed now that you can’t possibly reach everyone physically anyway. And with credibility and trust easily earned online, save your money and stay home. That’s what they say. I don’t buy it.
Those who hold that opinion — and act on it — can indeed earn a massive amount of credibility in some areas online, I agree. There’s something about online communication that can be extremely precise and efficient for building certain types of relationships. I get that. But those guys are missing so much more that is experienced when you engage someone face to face. I’ve found that every trip I’ve taken was worth a year of online communication with someone. Easily. Observing a simple facial expression or a tone of voice or a unique behavior in different settings or a particular gait gives more information in a moment than a million emails or those annoying IMs. Also, I’m continually amazed to see just how different digital people are vs their physical counterparts. Sometimes it’s night and day. Don’t we all love to watch those brave flamers melt when we show up in their offices? Isn’t it easier to ignore them online after you see them live? It is for me. Or just the opposite, too. I sometimes start listening to people online based on a quick face to face meeting. One face to face meeting can easily cut through all the clutter online.
I see this in my job all the time. I’ve dealt with hundreds of people on the OpenSolaris project. Many of those online relationships are absolutely meaningful (and some aren’t, of course), but also every one of those relationships changes when I meet someone face to face. I simply can’t think of even one example where this hasn’t been true. And I think that’s the catch here — both digital and physical engagements have specific value, especially when they are consistently combined. So, get out there!
Oh … here are a few hundred images from various OpenSolaris guys meeting face to face. I’m going to be doing a lot more traveling later this year and into next year, so watch flickr for more images from OpenSolaris — especially from Asia.