The drop in face-to-face contact has taken this epistemological fracture and given it an emotional dimension. We have all the tools in the world, yet we’ve never felt more alone. By depriving ourselves of facial expressions and the tangible frisson of physical contact, we are facing a terrible loss of meaning in individual life. The difference between a smiley face and an actual smile is too large to calculate. Nothing—especially ‘lol’—can quite convey the sound of a friend’s laughter. —John Freeman, The Tyranny of Email
It’d been months since we’d last seen each other. We’d sent a handful of emails with updates. Even a flurry of text messages every now and then. At one time we’d talked about setting a once-a-month dinner or coffee since we lived only miles apart. But varying responsibilities and full schedules kept us from actually sharing the same space. Soon, one month turned into several. No coffee, no conversation. And though our text messages and emails kept us connected, it wasn’t … enough.
Until recently, when a family dinner brought us together. After washing dishes and sending the kids to play and the men to shoot pool, we huddled in a corner of my kitchen, catching up. Two women talking-not-breathing in their haste to capture a rare moment of treasured togetherness.
With each story and smile shared, relief spilled from me like water freed from its dam. My tired mom-self talked like a teen girl chugging Dr. Pepper at a slumber party. As I rambled, she nodded with understanding. When she shared, I smiled and asked questions in return. Within a hour (okay, two), she’d put both feet into my world and I put mine into hers. And by the time she went home, I felt more alive than I had in quite some time.
Why? Because there’s something magical about being face-to-face with another living, breathing human.
No computer screen. No cell phone. No Skype application adding layers between us.
Just two people. Sharing life.
I’ve read about the dangers of an excessive cyber-life and the need to unplug. Even written a few posts myself. I think we’ve covered it. But in all our discussing what NOT to do, we forget to emphasize what TO do. Like making time to be physically present in the same room with key people. Face to face.
A few years ago, I did some research on the roots of human connection for a book project I’d been working on. The book didn’t fly, but the research did. I haven’t been the same since. One book in particular caught my attention like a face slap:
“If you asked a zookeeper to create a proper enclosure for the species Homo sapiens, she would list at the top of her concerns ‘obligatorily gregarious,’ meaning that you do not house a member of the human family in isolation, any more than you house a member of [Emperor Penguins] in hot desert sand.” ~ John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick (Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need For Social Connection)
We need people (read that one more time). Not images of people or sounds of people. We need actual flesh-and-blood people sharing life with us. What does this mean in your life and mine?
- Marriage and Family: Sharing a house and biology do not equate to sharing relational space. You can pass each other a hundred times a day and never stand face-to-face. A marriage can survive like that for a time, but not forever. You and I both know this. Go ahead and send text messages throughout the day. Leave voice mails or talk over Skype. But never forget these are merely the snacks leading to the feast.
- Job: Employees and coworkers need more than an email or IM from you. Find opportunities to communicate in person, when eye contact and facial expressions can provide a needed connection for your message. Even if you work remotely, be intentional and creative about finding regular time to talk, plan and brainstorm together. In person.
- Friendships: Friendship without face time will eventually fizzle (say that 10x fast). If we want deeper, more fulfilling relationships, we have to be willing to connect in person. This, of course, is impossible to do with all 1,764 of your Facebook friends. Precisely. What you lose in breadth, you’ll gain in depth. Which is what we’re desperate for anyway.
From the office to the dinner table, from marriage to friendship, humans thrive on face time. Skype, cell phones, email … good additions, but terrible substitutes. We need more than connectivity.
We need each other.
Which of your current relationships could benefit most from added face time?