Acting Human

Humans require interaction. Some have posited that our need to connect is as necessary as food and water. It’s how we’re wired. Isn’t it odd how so much of our socialization now occurs in the digital realm, rather than face-to-face?

Technology always gets offered up as a worthy surrogate. Facebook has become the default portal where all of our so-called humanness gets played out—touch, taste, success, beliefs, even end-of-life drama. This has become our new “normal.”

Maybe social media and our lack of time spent in the presence of other humans signifies some higher order evolution. I’m guessing that it doesn’t, since studies indicate there are more lonely Americans than ever before.

Staring at a screen isn't human interaction.

Staring at a screen isn’t human interaction.

When my friend died, I was torn about whether to send out emails to people that knew him and at one time had close connections with him. While I did let a few people know initially, it wasn’t until after Saturday’s service that I sent out a handful of additional notes. I was struck by how many people had no idea that he had died. A few sent tender and heartfelt replies. Others offered perfunctory responses, or none at all. Our instant communication is mostly Balkanized, at best.

These “digital shortcuts,” which we justify as time-savers, may in fact be enacting a toll on society.

An article that I tracked down through some web research contained a powerful quote from a Boston-based school psychologist named Dr. Kate Roberts. Commenting on what she’s observed, it appears that technology is wreaking havoc on how families interact.

“Families text rather than have conversations. We’re living in a culture of sound bites, and that is not developing our verbal skills or emotional intelligence,” Roberts said.

Roberts went on and made reference to a course being offered at Boston College on how to ask a person out on a date.

“It’s like we’ve lost the skill of courtship and the ability to make that connection,” said Roberts.

In July, I was standing on Lisbon Street, outside Lewiston Public Library, after meeting with a project consultant that I’d be doing work with for the following three months. A car drove by, and someone yelled out, “hey Mr. B,” a pet name that my wife calls me, and one that has been adopted as my moniker by some of her SheJAMS friends.

I finally put two-and-two together and figured out who it was who drove by and yelled out to me; a woman who sat on the other side of my cubicle wall at the Lewiston CareerCenter for six years. I thought it was very odd that she didn’t follow-up with an email note, quick phone call, or even a Facebook message. Nothing.

That’s what our digital shortcuts have delivered—people that have lost the art of interacting in meaningful and human ways. So much for Facebook “friends.”

The past couple of weeks haven’t done anything to alter my perceptions about why face-to-face is far superior to any type of social media, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other digital substitute.

4 thoughts on “Acting Human

  1. When I lived “away” I missed being able to see my family without a long car trip. Much of my personal quest, the “coming home” theme for me was about really knowing people and having the opportunity to “be” with them in a corporeal sense. Thank you, Jim, for always making time to drive “over the river and through the woods” to visit with me in person. As Garrison Keillor always says in his trademarked closing of The Writer’s Almanac, “be well, do good work, and keep in touch.”

  2. Sometimes we make changes in life or job etc. hoping that leaving a place where we no longer feel we connect but find ourselves in a worse situation. Surround yourself with connectors though they may be few they are true. Realize that others are feeling the same way maybe not all the time but when that moment happens take the opportunity to connect. As much as people would like to fool themselves into thinking artificial connection is good, it never is. Trying to connect now in the best and most caring way can seem like running against the wind and that can be tiring. I say when that happens, take a rest, regroup and do the run again….if that is who you are.

  3. Are you familiar with the heart as an organ of sensory perception? That we actually see and feel the world around us through our hearts? That the heart has more neurons and synapses than the brain, and that it’s actually the heart that tells the brain what to do, more than the other way around? That a heart can sense another human heart as far as ten feet away? We do this through electromagnetic fields created by our hearts, although it’s hardly as simple as that. But when you think of that, then think of those four teenagers sitting with a foot between them and an electronic device held right in front of… their hearts. Electrosmog. Electropollution. Electronic interference.

    When people actually see each other, visit each other, come face-to-face, that is actually an aesthetic experience. We think “aesthetics” and think of design, architecture, paintings, but in fact being with another person is as much an aesthetic experience, an encounter with soul through our senses (and not just the five, but our heart as well) even moreso than with a painting or music. We feel each other as much as see each other.

    The loss of your friend and the greatness of his heart, and the realization of how much that friendship and greatness was fragmented and diluted by “the way we live now,” use that. The only way to begin to understand how misled we are is by following your own heart, and your friend’s heart is still trying to show you the way.

  4. LP. I totally agree with all you have said….I have always led with my heart but I feel like more than ever that all that Electro stuff is getting in its way….I like your beautiful writing and sentiment at the end of your entry.

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