The digital world needs a more human touch

My cell phone has a camera in it. And a calendar and address book and a music player and a Sweet Home Alabama ringtone.

Not only can I call my Mom, I can also text, calculate a tip, check the time in Tokyo, and watch Beyonce dance. And it is not even a “smart phone.” It is the cheap flip phone I got for free when I signed a contract.

On my moderately high-speed home Internet, I can point and click and find information regarding the social customs of Bangladesh and the anatomy of the Australian kestrel. The entire catalog of thought and information recorded in human history is available to all. We can Facebook, YouTube, Skype, and Twitter. We have more ways to connect, more means of interaction, and more data than ever. And the computer boffins in California are making up new technologies by the day. Who knows how connected we might be in a few years time? What amazing times we live in.

Why then, are we more distant than ever? If our technology makes it so easy to connect, why are we so disconnected? Why do more people than ever in society feel lonely, emotionally isolated, and why is it near impossible to make new friends? As we have replaced personal interaction with electronic media, it appears that we are losing the most valuable resource we have — one another.

On Christmas Day, I had a Skype call with my daughter who lives in another state and as good as it was to talk to her at the end of the call I missed her more than ever. It is just not the same, and it never will be.

Electronic media, text, Twitter, Facebook, and even the printed word by which you are reading this eliminates much of the human element of personal interaction. Those who study linguistics and communication assert that the emotional and personal context that is found in tone of voice, facial expression, body language, and personal touch accounts for the majority of human interaction. And the digitized written word does not convey these.

Culturally, we cannot afford to replace personal contact with impersonal technology. Socially, we need each other, in deep and meaningful relationships that include human interaction, emotional exchange, and the give and take of face-to-face association.

Our technology can and should supplement and support relationships, but we cannot afford to let technology overwhelm or replace personal human contact.

I am not a technophobe. I am not opposed to progress, and I do not think I am old-fashioned. Neither will the world un-invent any of the great tools that makes life in 2013 so fascinating. And if we can keep it all in context, it will continue to be an asset. We should use Facebook for pictures of kittens playing the piano, and Twitter to check on Brent Musberger’s lunacy. Other than that, stop by and see me. Shake my hand and look me in the eye when you talk to me. Let’s be friends in the real world, not a virtual one.


— Brian Hotaling is the pastor at Charles Town Baptist Church.


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