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Melinda Gates tells Duke grads: It's all about your real connections

Network World Staff | May 15, 2013
Transcript of technologist/philanthropist Melinda Gates' commencement address to Duke University graduates.


The personal computer -- and later, after I'd graduated and taken a job at Microsoft, the Internet -- started a communications revolution. My kids are a few years younger than you, but raising them has proved to me that the way you communicate is the single biggest difference between you now and me a generation ago.

One popular way of describing this aspect of your lives is to say that you're "connected." Some pundits have even started to refer to you as Generation C. One recent report overdid the c-thing by saying you are "connected, communicating, content-centric, community-oriented, always clicking." It went on to say that, for these reasons alone, you will "transform the world as we know it."

Of course, all the hype about how connected you are has contributed to a counter-narrative -- that, in fact, your generation is increasingly disconnected from the things that matter. The arguments go something like this: Instead of spending time with friends, you spend it alone, collecting friend requests. Rather than savoring your food, you take pictures of it and post them on Facebook.

I want to encourage you to reject the cynics who say technology is flattening your experience of the world. Please don't let anyone make you believe you are somehow shallow because you like to update your status on a regular basis.

The people who say technology has disconnected you from others are wrong. So are the people who say technology automatically connects you to others. Technology is just a tool. It's a powerful tool, but it's just a tool. Deep human connection is very different. It's not a tool. It's not a means to an end. It is the end -- the purpose and the result of a meaningful life -- and it will inspire the most amazing acts of love, generosity, and humanity.

In his famous speech "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution," Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood."

With 50 years of hindsight, I think it's fair to say Dr. King was premature in calling the world a neighborhood. Back then, Americans lumped whole continents into something they referred to as the Third World, as if the people on the other side of the planet were an undifferentiated mass whose defining feature was that they were not like us.

But as a result of the ongoing communications revolution, your world really can be a neighborhood. So the ethical commitment Dr. King spoke of is yours to live up to.


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