When you look at communication technology today, it’s difficult not to be hugely impressed. We are more connected across the globe now than at any other point in history. We have friends and networks that span countries and continents, we converse with people we’ve never met in places we’ve never been, we share photos, recipes, philosophies, you name it, with a countless array of peers worldwide.
The ability to make friends and find like-minded souls across the world is a gift of technology none of us may have dreamed of, even a couple of decades ago. It is a wonderful gift, something to be truly grateful for. But it’s important to remember, however, that we only have so many hours in a day, and the more hours we spend online, the fewer hours we spend in the actual physical company of others. And as social creatures, we ignore our need for physical interaction at our own peril.
One cannot overstate the value of physical touch. While we can be connected to thousands of people online, nothing can replace the immediate reward of a hug. Online chatting is great, but it’s the experience of seeing our friends in person, looking in their eyes, touching their hands, that offers us the most rewarding connection.
Consider the simple hug: how else can we immediately express our feelings to another human on such an instinctual level? Through a hug we can express empathy, compassion, love, fondness, devotion or sorrow. The act of hugging another person connects us in a way that is immediate, and ultimately human. It is a form of communication and bonding that cannot be replicated in the virtual world.
This is not to say we should downplay the value of words. Sharing our feelings through words or video allows us to strengthen our bond with those we care about. But emotional bonds are not meant to be online entities. While video chat is a welcome tool to bridge great distance and prolonged absence, it is no substitute for the physical company of those we cherish.
A primary draw of technology is precisely the ease in which it replaces our traditional social interchange. We gather our friends online to discuss our interests and hobbies, play video games, comment on videos or politics, all from the comfort of our homes; no driving or searching for parking required. When we’re feeling lonely, it’s easy to log on and interact with someone, somewhere, with a common interest. And while we may feel connected to others, in some way, we sense that something is lacking.
That something is our humanity. No app exists that can replace the experience and reward of human physical interaction. Trying to replicate the human bonding experience in a virtual environment would be like trying to replace the sun with the glow of our computer screens (perhaps something that many of us can relate to).
Remarkable as our virtual lives are, eventually we desire the warmth of our fellow humans, in person.
The challenge in this scenario is that we often don’t realize how isolated we’ve become. We’re doing more communicating than ever, so it doesn’t occur to us that we may be lacking in other areas of our lives. We’re so busy chatting and posting and updating that we may not realize it has been days, or weeks, or even months since we’ve actually touched another person. We may not see that while our brains are constantly engaged, our hearts are left wanting.
Communication technology is indeed a wonderful thing. How we choose to use it will make all the difference in our lives. As long as we remember to step back every now and then, unplug ourselves from our machines, and re-plug ourselves into the arms of each other, we’ll be fine. Realizing the physical limits of technology is the first step in creating that balance.