“What do you do when you’re on a train for a day of meetings in the big city and discover you don’t have your phone…?”

That’s the question that I was forced to consider the other day on my journey from Connecticut’s Eastern Shoreline to New York City. And doing so shined a light on our evolving relationship with technology and the power of human kindness  – as well as reinforced the imperative for brands to take purpose-driven action.

An Unplugged Odyssey

The ground slipped from under me as the Metro-North train doors closed, and I realized I didn’t have my phone. No WiFi on the train to fire off messages to colleagues about the day’s meetings. No app or ApplePay to pay for my train ride or the subway once I was in the city. No Uber to go from one place to another if I was running late. And no pay phones to use even if I could find some loose change in my bag. A momentary feeling of panic because I hadn’t planned on managing my day unplugged…

Followed by the recognition that I had little choice to do anything other than to surrender to my circumstances. And as I did so, I opened myself to recognize (in a safe and secure way) how our world is no longer set up for those who don’t have a ubiquitous smartphone and to firsthand experience lessons in contrast—between the kindness of strangers and the rigidity of rules and between human empathy and indifference.

A fellow traveler’s generosity lending me his phone underpinned our shared humanity, regardless of the differences in our outward appearances and demographics. This stranger’s simple act of kindness spoke volumes about the potential for human connection, even in a world dominated by screens, polarized by ideology and struggling with indifference.

Unfortunately, not everyone mirrored this man’s compassion. A debate with a steadfast train conductor underscored how easily routines and regulations can overshadow real human limitations. And, well, one woman’s actions just are not appropriate to share here.

The Tech-Centric Paradox

Although I often reference our dependence on technology, the absence of my smartphone truly spotlighted the extent to which technology shapes our daily routines – and the things that are no longer possible to do without it. Tasks that have become almost second nature, such as paying for transportation and coordinating meeting points, suddenly were daunting without my phone in hand. It was a striking reminder of the digital divide, a gap that often goes unnoticed as we revel in technological progress.

As I sat on the train without a screen, I found myself pondering how brands play a role as architects of societal norms. What if brands embraced transformation and, also, committed to making their resultant innovations accessible to all? What if they strive to bridge the gap between the tech-savvy and the digitally marginalized? It’s no surprise that this is where brand purpose enters the stage.

Embracing Kindness and Purpose

Even more so than emphasizing the technological intricacies of our daily life, unintentionally not having my phone reinforced the significance of kindness, gratitude and making a positive impact. With monitors clamoring for our attention 24/7, genuine human connection may catch us off-guard – and feel like a rarity. And yet, as I experienced the generosity of a stranger, I truly sensed the immeasurable value such connections hold.

So, how can brands leverage their influence to foster empathy, inclusivity and purpose? How can they contribute to a world where technological advancements don’t inadvertently widen the gaps between us through cultivating authentic human connection?

A Call to Action for Brands

In a landscape dominated by screens, being disconnected mirrored the broader challenges and opportunities we face – as individuals and as brand leaders. I continue to believe that we all have a responsibility to drive positive change, especially those who command influence. Brands can be agents of transformation, catalysts for bridging disparities and hallmarks for empathy – because they have the power to sway how we think and how we behave.

By prioritizing inclusivity and accessibility, brands can reshape our cultural narrative. They can use their power to ensure that no one is left behind. It’s a path that aligns with the ethos of social responsibility and good citizenship and one that empowers brands to be forces for good.

While technology connects us virtually, it’s our actions, our empathy and our relationships that truly interconnect us. And I’m encouraged by the possibilities that lie ahead. Brands, with their immense reach and influence, can place themselves at the forefront of change…. So let’s use this opportunity to champion kindness, embrace the broader intention of purpose and pave a way for a future where technology and humanity harmoniously coexist.