I begin with a confession: I am reliant on my electronic devices. Should I forget my cell phone, I find myself warding off a panic attack, and if I leave my iPad behind, I fret being bored while waiting for a train or at the doctor’s office. The shame of this addiction has caused me to make excuses such as. “I have children, and I need to be reachable at all times.” I have work to do, and every idle minute is a waste. Of course, neither of these justifications makes any sense since my children always call back, especially if they need something. And while work excuse sounds good, I usually use my iPad to do the NY Times Crossword Puzzle or engage in some other divergence from work. So I am not above sin, but nevertheless, I am going to throw a stone.
What I have noticed most assuredly is that I am not alone in the commitment to electronic devices; the reliance on cell phones and other communication tools is omnipresent. I know there are plenty of arguments about the health dangers of these devices – everything from brain cancer to being hit by a car while playing Pokemon Go. But I am concerned that what we have lost is something far more profound: human touch.
On the most basic level, I discovered we no longer smile as we pass people on the street or say good morning as we sit down in a waiting room or on a train. We are isolated in a crowd by submerging ourselves into the Podcast we are listening to, or we are engrossed in a phone call, oblivious to all others. With so much time wasted isolated in an electronic haze there is precious little time left for human connections. It seems to me that people who now suffer from this isolation also tend to be increasingly standoffish about handshakes, pats on the back, and hugs among friends. We have developed a human shield that makes the imaginary line around personal space more like a barricade.
These days I rarely see young people holding hands or people walking arm and arm. I am always moved when I do see such public displays of affection, but lament that it is usually only among older couples, ones who no doubt do not have a cell phone or are mystified by computers. So why do I believe this is such a critical issue? Because in removing the therapeutic benefit of human contact, we have also lost a crucial element of healing. Jesus, after all, healed the sick with the laying on of hands. The whole notion of reaching out and touching someone to give them a decisive burst of healing power is found throughout the Bible, and religions around the world. We know an arm around a grieving or traumatized person can help to comfort and strengthen them. Our first reaction when we see a crying child is to sweep them up in our arms. Episcopalians are often teasingly referred to as God’s frozen chosen, but even we have been known to hug our family members.
Now as human beings – and as Christians – it is time to restore the notion of comforting others by coming out from behind our electronic fences (both literally and metaphorically) and begin again to reach out and touch someone. A handshake, a hug or just listening as if you are interested in every word can be amazingly healing. From the person in crisis to someone just feeling lonely, the importance of physical contact can not be minimized. Each person has a need and a right to know the power of the laying on of hands. If it were not so, would the reference to such acts be so numerous in the liturgy?
While the marvels of new technologies should be applauded and used to its full potential, we must not forget that behind that technology are real people. There are people who love, who are full of ideas and energy waiting to connect with others. We can not let the isolation created by technology cut off what is best about humanity. We must explore ideas together, debate together, and not look to the Internet as the last or worse only authority on significant issues of the day. We must learn to reach out to others again, to pepper our conversations with “Good Morning” or simply, “have a good day.” Jesus reached out to all people: he healed the blind by touching their eyes, and he was not afraid of the lepers.
The next time you see someone you haven’t seen in a long time, or a loved one, hug them! Just because it will make you both feel better. To live in a world without hugs would be heartbreaking and depressing. Phones are not your friends nor are the pundits on any number of websites who are trying to rile you up against enemies you didn’t know you had. There is a fine line in a song from the Broadway show Hello Dolly that sums my thoughts up quite well.
“… and on those cold winter nights Horace you can cuddle up with your cash register Horace, it’s a little lumpy, but it rings!”