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UC President Santa Ono's letter

Face-to-face connections trump everything

As I continue my national tour to meet with alumni and friends — we’re calling it the #HottestCollegeinAmerica 2013 Tour — I’ve been thinking about the ways we interact and how we know what we know in this restlessly mobile and technologically privileged century.

We certainly seem to know more and more about each other by way of LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and others. Search engines flash results in a sliver of a second, and a few clicks can tell us someone’s address, what she paid for her house, what he looked like in high school and even how many jobs he has had since then.

But I’m hardly the first to wonder how much of this counts as knowing. Indispensable as the Internet is, information has never been the same as knowledge. The digital universe does “surfaces” best: the précis, the front page, the link, the chart, the retort.

Knowledge requires depth. And while there is plenty of false information out there — probably inevitable in a largely unregulated medium — there can be a deeper falseness, ironically, in the World Wide Web’s sense of depth.

The Internet is more mirror than lake. In tailoring links and topics and even ads to our personal predilections, it gives us back mainly an image of ourselves while fooling us into thinking we’ve plumbed rather than skimmed.

As far-flung and busy as we all are in 2013, we could hardly function without these miraculous distance-spanning technologies. (And it’s worth remembering that the telegraph, telephone and even snail mail were once revolutionary, too.) But as I meet more and more of the students, faculty, parents, staff and alumni who make up the Bearcat family, I realize that there’s no substitute for face-to-face.

This double-edged blade — connection without contact — cuts across research and business no less than social media. Scholarship and discovery, two things UC is very good at, benefit mightily from the modern ability to share data. Certainly no researcher yearns for a world gone by in which (just to choose one field) Gregor Mendel’s pioneering work in genetics could be unknown for decades and Charles Darwin could be alerted only by a handwritten letter in the post to a career’s worth of parallel work by Alfred Wallace.

But then as now, much of what drives discovery is hands-on work in the field, the lab and the library, and many a research idea is sparked by conversation in the hallway or cafeteria. Nothing trumps the human connection.
I know it will be fun meeting many of you and getting reacquainted with others this spring in a place close to your home, where we can talk about UC or whatever else is on your mind.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy reading these wonderful stories about things you may never have known about UC. They remind us that the telling details of someone’s life and work, and the dreams and quirks that give texture to any personal portrait, rarely show up on Google or get fully captured in a Tweet.

Hope to see you — really see you — soon.

Santa Ono's signature