The following also appeared in the July 1-7 edition of the Irish Echo.
It is indisputable that the advent of mobile technology and social media has changed the way we live our lives. There is no doubt that the information that makes the world go around is right at our fingertips, keeping us ‘plugged in’. And for many, this access to information, and the devices that provide it, is a critical lifeline to the outside world.
However, while the benefits that come with having these powerful little computers always at the ready far outweigh the negative, it is fair to say that they have brought with them just as many unintended consequences. For many, connectedness means the ability to communicate their every thought with the world quickly. Technology has broken down many barriers to communication, reduced individual’s inhibitions when it comes to sharing opinions, and offered anyone with an internet connection access to an audience that far surpasses that of this publication, or that of any other individual outlet. Thanks to these powerful tools the whole world is indeed a stage.
But have we lost the ability, or forgotten the importance of, connecting with each other on a personal level? The art of the deal sealed by a handshake, the need to look someone in the eye to truly understand their needs, the importance of being ‘in the moment’ with others are quickly becoming parts of a forgotten era.
Today, we seek to communicate, negotiate and facilitate our interactions, whether business, personal or otherwise in short and snappy messages that dare not exceed 140 characters in length.
Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means anti-technology, and in fact am a great proponent of, and have spoken and written about, the value of social media in connecting with others. But I also believe that to truly communicate, these tools must be part of a greater plan, used to supplement and continue discourse that comes from face-to-face conversations.
Two events earlier this month (June) showed again that when it comes to engaging the global Irish community, lawmakers in both Dublin and Belfast also believe that bringing people together is critical in efforts to make outreach to the Diaspora even more effective. Irish Network USA was proud to be a part of both.
The first of these, the Global Irish Civic Forum, was hosted by Minister Jimmy Deenihan. Over the course of two days more than 200 delegates from 17 countries came together at Dublin Castle to connect with government, learn from each other, and deepen their own understanding of what it means to be ‘Irish’, and specifically ‘Irish abroad’. A series of panel discussions and workshops intertwined with networking opportunities where attendees had the chance to ask questions, share best practices, and develop relationships that will continue to grow as we all returned back to our organizations and redouble our efforts to keep our members connected to ‘home’.
Not knowing what to expect going into this event, I was inspired by the dedication of the leaders in the room whose “year -round commitment to Ireland and Irish people” Minster Charlie Flanagan commended during his own comments, had for making sure the conversations we began in Dublin continue on. Noting the success of the ‘inaugural’ Civic Forum, Minister Deenihan brought the event to a close by noting that he believed we’d be back together for the 2nd Global Irish Civic Forum in the not too distant future.
Running concurrently to the Global Irish Civic Forum, in a city that has been largely built on the blood, sweat and determination of Irish immigrants, Mairtin O’Muilleoir convened his 6th annual New York/Belfast conference at Fordham University. The largest to date, #NYNB15, as it became known in the ‘twitterverse’, served as an opportunity for community and business leaders to focus on the growing economic relationship between New York and Belfast, while again offering plenty of time for one on one networking and personal interactions fostering formidable relationships.
Reflective of Irish Network USA’s own mission, both of these events deftly combined efforts to connect Irish around the world not just through business links, but also through a celebrations of Irish arts, culture, sport, and education. They also created environments that allowed for real conversations and meaningful dialogue to flourish. With new foundations laid, the opportunity exists for many of these relationships to continue to grow , and truth be told much of this will be done within the prism of social media, but now with an incredibly strong base to work from.
While getting people to take time out of their busy lives, sacrifice time away from their families, and put away their mobile devices long enough to listen is never an easy task, efforts to engage the Irish Diaspora in a more meaningful way are stronger because of the Global Irish Civic Forum and New York/New Belfast.