Face-to-face interactions seem to matter

I just checked. I have 218 friends. I friend of mine has over 4,000 friends. That’s a lot, right? He definitely wins the popularity contest. But what does it mean? And Facebook friends are so last decade anyway. I’m just getting started on Instagram. By the time I get to them, social and sharing networks are close to obsolete, it seems, if I ever get to them at all!

I know I’m a few generations out (and I know I sound a bit like grandpa who walked five miles to school in a blizzard uphill—both ways—every day), but I’m not sure how the current working concept of friend fits the definition that I grew up with.

I’m not writing this to lament the change in the meaning of the word friend (although it is interesting to me that it is now also a verb), but explore, a little bit, the idea of face-to-face interaction and virtual interaction. Lynn Nichols investigates this, also, in her feature story Unplug! on page 18 where she points out that the problem is not necessarily what kids are doing online, but what they’re not doing: creative, imaginative, unstructured and sometimes physical free play. Apparently, that matters.

As does learning how to have a conversation. I just finished reading a book called The Lost Art of Good Conversation by Sakyong Mipham. He points out that technology does keep us connected to the whole world, but that we tend to be less connected to people in our everyday lives.

Lynn Nichols emphasizes that parents must nurture verbal skills, kindness and good character through social interactions with their children. Without some practice we lose the ability to listen because we are distracted and have trouble focusing.

Mipham points out that by talking to someone in person, we gain access to specific senses: appreciation, compassion and love. These are feelings that connect human beings to reality, which stimulates our intuition and awareness. He continues: “If we become conditioned to the computer, then we become one-dimensional. We are less deep as individuals and more shallow, anxiety-ridden and irritable. By not having conversations, we’re forgetting how to feel.”

We can maybe see the affects of that in our polarized public discourse. Again Mipham: “Civility is based on putting another person at ease. An opinionated, self-centered, and distracted mind cannot imagine putting another first. As a result, long-established norms of civility, such as respect and tolerance for others’ views, appreciation of the truth, and embarrassment about shameful behavior, are in free fall.”

So I’d say that more is at stake than simply whether you and your children have in-person friends, online friends, or a combination of the two. Quite possibly, and I don’t think that I’m overstating, the fabric of society could rest on making playdates for our children so that they can interact face-to-face with other kids.

Have a great 2018,