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Wired For Connection

March 23, 2022 – Ally Isom spoke at the Mormon Transhumanist Association conference. The group focuses on how religion, doing good in the world, and technology intersect. Ally addressed the audience as a former executive in Utah’s tech sector. Her remarks focused on how we, as human beings, are all wired for connection, and how building connections with each other will help us face the future.

Ally Isom’s Full Remarks

“We are Wired to Connect: Privacy, Transparency & Hope”

I am so truly honored to be here with you today! Many thanks to Carl Youngblood and board for the invitation!

What the World Needs NOW

Who knew that a microscopic little thing like the SARS-CoV-2, or corona virus, could wreak such havoc on our world. Economies set back. Schools closed. Travel prohibited. 

But one of the biggest impacts of all — our authentic connection as humans. 

We were confined to home. Schools went online. Work went online. Even worship went online.

At first, the introvert in me relished my little COVID cocoon, especially the lycra-wardrobe part of it. But over time, physical isolation takes a toll on even the most introverted, but especially for those who thrive around other humans. We started to realize how much we really need each other.

Neuroscience says our brains are wired to connect with others. In conversation, pathways in our brain light up, mirroring the other person’s emotions and behavior.

I believe we made connections before this world began. And our connections are the one thing we take with us when we depart mortality. It is one of our greatest human needs. It’s essential for growth.

Aside from my own experiences, there is a growing body of social science research on the power of connection. Whether it’s our declining lifespan, civic discord, partisan tribalism, political polarity, epidemic loneliness, substance abuse, self-harm, suicidality, anxiety, depression, addiction, the education gap, the wage gap, the gender gap, the achievement gap—study after study after study tells us the antidote is CONNECTION.

Connection Restores Hope

Put simply: Connection restores hope. More than 150 studies conclude that connection strengthens our immune system and lengthens our lives.[1],[2],[3] People with a profound sense of spiritual connection are more gracious and compassionate, and they flourish and savor life.[4]  Children who are more connected to family learn higher-order skills that better equip them to face the challenges of our world.[5]  Volunteers known as “cuddlers” in the NICU reduce infant pain and stress, and promote brain development and healing, with simple human connection.[6]  Rats go from almost 100% chemical overdose when they are isolated, to zero percent overdose when they have connected lives.[7]

Connection. Call it cuddling. Call it relationship. Or being in tune, in touch, or aligned. Or belonging, knowing, loving. At its core, it’s all CONNECTION. Let me add one more – People who experience trauma and then seek connection demonstrate greater grit and resilience. Let me repeat that: People who experience trauma and then seek connection demonstrate greater grit and resilience.

We’ve all been a little traumatized during this global pandemic, haven’t we? People increasingly feel unseen, unheard and unvalued. I’ve heard that sentiment across the political spectrum.

So if you take one thing from my brief remarks it is this: As we come out of this pandemic, if we seek connection–individually and collectively– NOW– today–we will be better equipped to face the next big challenge, and the next and the next. We will resist the paralyzing grip of fear, uncertainty, distrust, and hopelessness. What the world needs now is real, meaningful and lasting connection.

Now, in the context of technology, there are some who say authentic connection is not attainable through digital relationships–that your Facebook friends are anything but real friends. That may be easy to assume, especially if one enjoys the gamified or financially lucrative aspect of accumulating friends and followers. Recently, one online influencer greeted her phone with, “Hey, guys…” and then revealed something sensitive about her child with thousands of followers who don’t even know that child’s name. 

I would assert THAT is not real or meaningful connection.

And yet for a meaningful number of people, online relationships can be just as real as the ones formed face-to-face. Moreover, I might argue that my real relationships are actually enhanced because I now stay connected via digital platforms. Simply due to life’s patterns and activities, our lives criss-cross more often online than they do in real life. I’m aware of when they welcome a new child or grieve a parent who has passed. They share their highlights and lowlights and–when we are being honest– we all seem to realize how very human we are.

Now what are the tradeoffs to this kind of intimacy? 

Due to the time constraints of this brief encounter today, I want to leave you with a series of questions: 

  1. Do we surrender privacy when we log on? Is anything truly private online anymore? Should it be? How much regulation should there be? How accountable should tech companies be for protecting your privacy and personal information?
  2. Has surveillance-based advertising gone too far? Are alternatives to search engine giants–companies like Duck Duck Go with its 3% market share and user base of 30 million people– proof that companies can succeed without surveilling users for advertising profit? When does a fact checker become a fact blocker?
  3. Do we fully understand the scale and scope of misinformation, discriminatory advertising, or targeting minors? Do we have to have an accurate read to know those are bad? In a digital age, is there a tradeoff between privacy and free speech? Who has reliable data about the true effects of the 2018 repeal of net neutrality?
  4. Will Web 3.0 change this conversation in a meaningful way? Does cryptocurrency free us from the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy or flatten existing power relationships?

In the public policy arena, I wrestle with these and other complicated questions, but I do so with HOPE. Let me tell you why. Since I officially filed to run for the US Senate last July, I have walked with everyday Utahns in more than 90 communities. There are amazing people doing amazing things all across Utah. I ask them what matters most to them, what keeps them up at night, what they want for the future of our nation.

We talk about things that are nationally relevant at a public policy level, but ultimately, before we say our goodbyes, we inevitably talk about what is truly in their hearts–the things that hurt, the things that are healing, the hard things they’ve weathered. We authentically connect in truly meaningful ways.  

And while I may be just one data point, I leave feeling hope-FILLED.

Humans can solve the toughest issues. We have.

Humans can weather the worst storms. We have.

Humans come up with incredible ideas. Wow, have we ever!

And, at the most basic level, we all know we need other humans.

I’ll close with an experience from earlier this week. We have a family of five from Ukraine living with us as war wages in their homeland. They came seeking refuge and peace. Their twelve-year-old son was seated at my kitchen counter, playing a video game on his phone, earbuds in, speaking Russian.

I was intrigued. With whom was he speaking? Had he found someone in school that also speaks Russian? I thought, “How great that he is making friends.” When he finished, we asked who was on the phone. A friend? He responded that he was playing an online game with a boy who lives in Russia.  

Imagine–two boys, playing games from the opposite sides of the world, on opposite sides of a real-life war. Then he added, that boy’s father died two weeks ago, fighting in Ukraine. Suddenly the gravity of what is happening in my home hit me hard. It’s so easy to consider the bleak realities of our global dynamics and feel hopeless, as if global war is inevitable.

But in that moment, I was struck by the symbolism of two boys, worlds away–one left homeless and the other fatherless, by a common conflict. 

Two boys found each other, used a common language, found a way to connect, and for a moment, forgot all the heaviness surrounding them and just enjoyed a game. 

Because of that connection, somehow I felt a flicker of HOPE–a DIVINE hope.

Isaiah 40:31 reads: 

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” 

Deep down, we TRULY are wired to connect. And when we do, we can keep moving forward with strength and resolve. As we navigate our world and its complexities today, may we NEVER grow weary in pursuing true connection with each other AND the divine source of light and truth–the truest source of infinite hope.

Thank you.