Students, faculty, friends and family gathered around twinkling table numbers and appetizer plates at the Humans of UCalgary’s Shooting for the Stars event on Nov. 21, with one intention — to experience human connection.
The event at the University of Calgary provided opportunities for attendees to practice the art of conversation with new people through guided prompts, such as, “What is your favourite childhood memory?” and “What is something you lose track of time doing?”
The Calgary Journal spoke to keynote speakers Christine Fiorini, a freelance blogger and Leighton Wilks, a Haskayne School of Business instructor, about their own experiences on fostering human connection in a digital age.
Calgary Journal: What is human connection?
Fiorini: I believe human connection is people coming together through similar life experiences. I’ve gone through difficult times in my life, and I feel most connected to people who can relate to me. I was in a car accident last March and I’m faced with chronic pain. I’ve recently started opening up about my experience and the responses that I’ve received from people saying “hey, me too, I’ve experienced similar things” are so comforting to me.
Wilks: Human connection is understanding some of the issues we face in everyday life.
In today’s world, there’s kind of a paradox. We’re all pretty connected with each other through our mobile devices and social media, but I think it misses that human side — that connection where we sit down with each other and actually talk and hear each other’s stories, which are different than what we post on social media which is usually “look how great my life is, everything’s perfect.”
CJ: What does human connection mean to you personally?
Fiorini: Not feeling so alone. In this world of social media, we are pumped with the idea that it’s best not to care because it allows us to protect ourselves. But then you feel very alienated because if people don’t share what they struggle through, what they grow into, what they rise above, you don’t know what’s going on so you can’t relate.
Wilks: It’s the ability to get out and meet new and interesting people. It’s about finding those people that maybe I wouldn’t necessarily find in my daily activities and different spheres of my life.
CJ: What is the biggest threat to human connection that people face right now?
Fiorini: The world of online living. It’s scary, because you can’t see [who you’re interacting with], you can’t hear their voice — it takes away that real human connection and it turns it into a technological connection.
Wilks: I think it’s that paradox with social media. I think we’re more connected than ever but we’ve got less of a connection than ever. We know a lot of people but it’s at a very superficial level.
CJ: What supports human connection more than anything else?
Fiorini: I would say the courage to speak out and communicate even the darkest of things. The more that you keep things to yourself, the less of an ability there is to make a connection with another human being.
Wilks: It’s the relationships — it’s the interpersonal relationships. It’s getting the chance to get to know people and do interesting, fun and creative things as a team.
CJ: Does digitalization have anything to offer human connection?
Fiorini: I’m a blogger, so I’m online quite often. [Social media] allows me to reach a larger audience than I can in normal life. That’s how I see online mediums as useful — they help us reach more people.
Wilks: It is a double-edged sword. Social media often provides a sense of community with people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to connect with each other. I’m a member of some online communities for various interests of mine and I never would have met these people had we not been able to connect in that way. Having said that, there is this risk of not knowing people at a deeper level and only having a superficial connection.
CJ: If you could only recommend one thing to people to help them connect better with others, what would it be?
Fiorini: Confidence. Everyone has an insecurity, and sometimes people allow that insecurity to overcome the expression of who they are. They stay reserved and they don’t show the world who they truly are, whether it’s because they want people to see them in a particular way or they’re worried about what people will think. But confidence and that courage are the keys.
Wilks: I think it would be to be interested and do interesting things. Get out there. Follow your passions, I guess, because this event is all about passion.
These interviews have been edited for conciseness and clarity.