Staying in Touch

Staying in Touch

Staying in Touch: An excerpt from the TCA lesson “Face 2 Face”

Staying in Touch

Seventeenth Century English novelist, Samuel Richardson once said. “Where words are restrained, the eyes often talk a great deal.” Imagine how much more difficult it is for us to comprehend the world, when we remain too distant from the objects of our attention to see them at all. When we reduce people to email addresses, customers to profit dollars, and dear friends to Christmas cards or the occasional telephone call.

The world may be getting smaller, but we hide behind more walls than ever before.  Physical restrictions, social barriers, electronic buffers, ideological walls and scheduling conflicts. The chance to avoid human contact is appealing to many, as they can remain safely cocooned within an increasingly narrow section of their lives.

Instead of visiting in person, we talk on the telephone. Instead of listening to voices, we chat online. Instead of sharing full conversations, or crafting carefully composed letters, we dash off quick emails. When even these terse exchanges demand too much time or intimate contact, we shrink them down to a brief IM or text message with abbreviated codes that save us from having to waste whole words on our fellow man.

In the Twenty-First Century, this is how many stay ‘in touch.’

Modern technology has finally made it possible to live, work, shop and communicate entirely within the confines of your own walls, without ever needing to see another face. And when we step outside, there are many things we can do to minimize the likelihood of meeting another person. As far back as 1972, IBM designed kiosks for San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system that allowed riders to purchase tickets to their exact destination without the burden of interacting with another live being.

Although John Shepherd-Brown installed the first free-standing Automated Teller Machine (ATM) for Barclays Bank in 1967, it wasn’t until the 1980’s that the idea of trusting your life savings to an inanimate object, rather than a bank teller, became popular.

Home theater systems attempt to recreate the cinema experience in the privacy of your own living room. You get the movie theater without having anyone else in the audience.

In many of today’s grocery and retail stores, we can choose to scan and bag our own purchases instead of taking the few extra minutes to share life with a cashier. And little by little, we insulate ourselves from basic human interaction in the name of convenience and speed.

We speak of online communities, but there is no opportunity to truly commune, or relate to others through a digital interface. We fail to see the irony that not long ago, the worldwide web’s most popular social networking site is named ‘MySpace.’ College students spend hours each day posting messages on Facebook, instead of facing the person in the adjacent dorm. Even the simple act of romance has been stripped down from long-term courtship to five-minute ‘speed’ dating, to Internet hook-ups through eHarmony or far less reputable sites.

“What troubles me is the Internet and the electronic technology revolution. Shyness is fueled in part by so many people spending huge amounts of time alone, isolated on e-mail, in chat rooms, which reduces their face-to-face contact with other people.”

 Philip Zimbardo (Psychologist, Professor, Author)

Humanity was never meant to be so inhuman. How insane our ancestors might imagine us to be, in our need to use machines to interface, so that we miss the joy of face-to-face contact. Absence makes the heart grow fonder only when love already exists. Otherwise, distance leaves us cold and ambivalent.

We were born to relate, to share, to be part of a family. Our need to experience direct physical contact is so strong, our bodies wither without it.  Infants who are seldom touched have a significantly slower rate of development, and will die from this absence of human warmth, even when all other physical needs are provided. World War II experiments with orphans showed the horrifying results of isolation on a child’s physical and psychological development. Even seniors in nursing homes live longer and remain healthier when touch – a comforting hug, holding a hand, a reassuring pat on the shoulder – becomes a regular part of their care.

The reverse is also true. We judge humanity on our ability to touch and be touched. In a 2007 experiment, researchers introduced a small robot to a group of children under two years-old. When the robot named QRIO (pronounced ‘curio’) danced, made sounds and simulated human movement by turning its head, the children quickly lost interest. But when the robot was programmed to respond to every touch with a giggle, the mechanical object was accepted as a fellow playmate. The children touched its face, and then its arms and hands, similar to how they related to each other. The experiment continued for five months, with responsiveness to touch overcoming the robot’s mechanical face, and allowing it to be accepted as a friend.  Eventually, researchers allowed QRIO’s batteries to die, leaving the robot lying motionless on the floor. Some children said “nigh-nigh” as they gently placed a blanket over the mechanical being. Others cried over its apparent death…so they had real responsiveness to touch made with their metal companion.

“Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  –  John 20:27 ESV

We cannot be a part of the family of mankind or the body of Christ, without being sensitive to each other’s needs or presence. To be sensitive, in the purest sense of the word, is to be within proximity of one’s senses. Being able to reach out and touch another. To read the other person’s gestures, facial expressions and body language. Being attuned to the complex nuances of interpersonal communication that can be so well hidden in a phone call or written correspondence.

What does this mean for your business? Your father was right. There is a definite benefit in looking someone straight in the eye, offering a smile and extending your hand in friendship. As a gesture of greeting or closing a deal, that simple handshake imparts trustworthiness, sincerity and shared humanity.

Your time and your physical presence says ‘You matter to me.’  And in the competitive world of business, your willingness to meet in person may end up being what matters most to that next big customer.

“Basic human contact – the meeting of eyes, the exchanging of words – is to the psyche what oxygen is to the brain. If you’re feeling abandoned by the world, interact with anyone you can.”               – Martha Beck (Author, Public Speaker)

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