Letter: Irreplaceable Warmth of Smiling Eyes

To the Editor:

I’m offended when I walk by a person either texting or talking on a cell phone completely ignoring my passing presence. I’m bothered when a doctor spends much of my appointment time typing the state of my health into a computer with little eye contact and conversation with me, the patient. I’m unnerved by the driver of a car who is also texting or talking on a cell phone while driving.

Are we losing sight of the quality of human contact by being so closely tethered to our electronic devices? The average Facebook user has over 300 “friends” but how many of these does he or she really know? Match.com allows one to find a potential mate online, but both individuals need to meet in person to confirm or disconfirm impressions obtained from a distance. Blind dates based on a friend’s description were never successful for me in real time. FaceTime or Skype allows you to capture nonverbal cues such as body language, gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice but physical contact is missing. Evidence exists that those receiving a supportive touch either from a teacher or a doctor are more likely to feel engaged or listened to.

We need to ask a basic question: What does it mean for us to be connected with others? I like to think of making connections in these ways: first, verbally using email, Twitter, or Facebook, then a distant, face-to-face connection using Skype or FaceTime, and finally, a physically present face-to-face connection. In my experience, proceeding in this order increases my emotional and social connection. We need a balance in our use of these devices and to acknowledge that no smiley face can replace the warmth of smiling eyes of a loved one in real time.

Bob Scobie