Keeping in touch or personal touch?
Weary Parent's group writing project asks what advice we were given as teens that we took to heart. Now, either my parents were not the advice giving sort or I really wasn't listening because I do not remember a single piece of advice they ever gave me. I did, however, hear a frequent command which has proven to be very beneficial to me and those around me:
Dana, get off the phone.
My parents just wanted to be able to make a phone call. But I began to realize something. All humans have an innate desire to develop and maintain relationships with other humans. The telephone is a convenient means of keeping in touch, but without the touch. As such, it is nothing more than a substitute for real human contact. It touches the surface of a need, but cannot satisfy it.

I spent my senior year in Germany and there I read a book which had a somewhat profound effect on my thinking for some time: Homo Faber by Max Frisch. The title emphasizes the entire thesis of the book. It juxtaposes two ideas of man: homo sapiens, man the wise, and homo faber, man the smith or maker. The main character of the book is a Swiss technologist who views men much as he views the machinery with which he works. They are nothing more than the sum of their parts, and as such are somewhat interchangeable. He is cool, distant and detached from what is going on around him. He lives in a world of black and white, right and wrong, actions and consequences but void of forgiveness. And through the developing plot, he records everything with his camera.

It is his way of seeing everything and experiencing nothing.

In our high-tech society, we have more ways of communicating than ever before. We have email, instant messenger, blogs, online discussion groups, telephones and cell phones. We can remain in almost constant contact without actually having any physical contact. I am reminded of AT&T's old advertising slogan, "Reach out and touch someone."

Except you cannot actually touch anyone through a telephone. You remain distant and the connection is superficial. It is little wonder that researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found a link between increased internet usage and mild depression (pdf), especially in those who sought to form relationships via the internet as opposed to those seeking entertainment. The spirit yearns for physical contact and is only placated, never satiated.

My parents may not have realized they were giving any profound advice as they cut short my telephone usage, but they did provide the impetus for recognizing the importance of real, personal human contact. Technology can be a wonderful tool, but it can also become a distraction, preventing us from truly connecting with those around us and silencing our needs for contact without fulfilling them.

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