We've all been getting used to FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, and all the ways we now use to keep in touch with one another. It's a gift to be able to connect virtually across the literal distance that's been placed between us. But don't we always feel something's lost in these exchanges? How do we keep it all real?
Virtual meetings are exhausting in a way face-to-face meetings are not. People whose work has called for a lot of them, daily, say it is way more tiring than meeting around a board table. Partly, that's because your image is on the screen the whole time. You're always "on". Not only do you have to look reasonably present, and presentable (unless you're among the Philistines who only engage the audio, not the video, meaning you could be sitting on the toilet or playing on your cell phone), you can keep checking your on-screen image, to make adjustments. That's a lot of self-consciousness.
Also, we miss things when we're meeting online--the subtle interpersonal clues we pick up from body language, eye contact, and sometimes from touch, and even smell. Everything has to be channeled through words, words, words, even when we don't have that much to say. And anyway, with our family and friends, n0thing says more than a proper hug, a kiss, and the reassurance of our physical presence.
I might have thought that phone calls would be a welcome reprieve in this new age of visual technology. The human voice can be a telltale communicator, unaided by a screen image. We can often hear someone's meaning perfectly well. Maybe it's communications fatigue, but I'm choosing email instead, where I can consider my words better than in a live conversation. I can even go back and revise them.
But the real antidote to all that screen time, I find, is not switching to some other medium. It's taking the time to connect with the flesh and blood person in the room, the delivery person at the door, the neighbour on his driveway, the clerk at the check-out. When the person is real, I find myself taking advantage of the moment to make eye contact, to ask how they are, to make a human observation about the moment. Without fail, eyes light up in these exchanges, theirs and mine. For an instant, our souls are fed.
In the 1970's, Stephen Stills (of Crosby, Stills & Nash) wrote a song that carried, for its own time, a message of Free Love. I think we should resurrect that song now, for our present age and predicament: If you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with.