I was just thinking yesterday about the first time my friend Neil Vineberg told me about something called e-mail. He told me all I had to do was to go out and buy a modem, get it connected to my Apple computer, type in a few codes, set up an address, and we’d be able to communicate from computer to computer. Poof! It was like magic. Prophetically, Neil told me at the time this new technology would change the way people communicate.
Neil was right. It is hard to believe what has happened to us in just 20 years. Technology has indeed changed the way we communicate–and so much more. We all have access to multiple and ever-evolving ways to communicate: e-mail, cell phones and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. It seems we are so awash in communication options we hardly know which one to pick up next.
In the midst of this ferment, I’ve been pondering, “does technology makes me feel more connected to the ones I love and care about?” I can send my family, friends, colleagues and clients more messages and hear back from them more frequently and faster than ever before. But if the question is whether the volume of e-mails I receive makes me feel more loved and intimately connected, the answer is “no.”
What I am finding is the simplest forms of communication mean more now than ever. Getting a hug from friend for no particular reason, except they are glad to see me, has never felt so good. In fact, the University of North Carolina has published research that proves a hug can actually lower your blood pressure and strengthen your immune system. When I ask the clerk at 7-11, “How are you this morning?”, and I look in his eyes and pay attention to what he’s saying, he responds as if I have just given him a most special gift.
And nothing via e-mail could touch me as much as the birthday card I just got from my big sister Jan. In her own inimitable handwriting it says, “ To our very special brother who is so dear to our hearts.” (And for the record, ‘very special’ is underlined. 🙂 ) Something about the feel of the card in my hand and knowing it was written by her hand transmits the love in my sister’s heart straight into mine.
Inspired by the billion dollar organic food industry, organic clothing lines and the organic dry cleaner on my block, I’m ready to start a movement called “Organic Communication Now!” We can’t turn back the clock and we probably wouldn’t want to if we could. But let me be the first to stand up for old-fashioned, simple and “organic” ways of communicating. A hug, a smile, a thank you: delivered person-to-person by physical gesture, voice, handwriting or art. These have more significance and impact than ever before. They remind us all of our shared humanity, something that pre-existed technology by more than a few thousand years and something we have expressed with utmost care through story, pictures and music throughout the ages.
In closing, let me share with you what my friend at Ali Baba’s food truck told me last week as he handed me a homemade falafel sandwich, “A smile can change someone’s whole life.”
Now it’s off to check my e-mail.