I was struck last week by this post by Steven Hodson on Mashable:
... I know I am not alone in this but sometimes I get the feeling that as a human race we are slowly losing the ability or desire to appreciate the things in life that we are so eager to try and replace with technology ... As much as technology in some ways is trying to make our lives better, we should also not be willing to so easily give up on the real human act of interaction ... I don’t believe that any video conferencing can come close to sitting at a bistro cafe on a sunny Sunday morning sharing brunch while talking about both the mundane and the important. Friendships made over digital connections can be important, but they don’t even come close to those forged through holding a friend during their times of trouble or when they sit with you sharing nothing more than the setting of the sun.
I agree thoroughly, but what I found most interesting was the tone of this post—the sense that we're just starting to acknowledge this problem. But it's not new at all; those of us who live in cities, who rarely exchange a hello with our next-door neighbor and ride the subway in the company of nameless others, have been grappling with the dilemma in a different form for many years. I think that hiding behind a text message to avoid interacting personally and emotionally is just another variation of choosing to be anonymous in a crowd. I wish I could spend a day in the brain of someone in her teens, who doesn't know life without instantaneous electronic communication—I'm sure she has a very different concept than I of what it means to really know someone, and how that process happens. I have friendships that grew in both realms, but still a sense that meeting in person is the real deal. But to someone who doesn't share that default understanding, I must seem like a Luddite—and the idea presented above, radical.
I remember when I first got involved in my synagogue, and that feeling of coming home—of gathering with a crowd each week, seeing familiar faces, sharing intimacy simply by being present. It woke me up; it was new, but also comfortable in the same way as hanging out with friends or family, having no agenda aside from enjoying each other's company. Although my life was not bereft of those experiences, they were diminishing in favor of online communication. But not until I began to re-experience the other kind of interaction on a regular basis did I understand, deep down in my bones, how much I missed and needed it. It was a feeling beyond my conscious control, surely hard-wired and in my DNA. Maybe this is why we invented religious ritual way back when, to insure that we had a reason to gather in person on a regular basis. Maybe religion had nothing to do with God—or maybe that feeling is God, and why we're compelled to sit close, shake hands, breathe the same air.