Backgrounder on Value of Face to Face Contact to Connect with People St. Vincent de Paul of Seattle King County
Technology Is Pulling Us Apart
According to experts, technology designed to bring us together is actually doing just the reverse. Many of us are lonely and lost. We are being pulled apart. Much of our communications is impersonal and disconnected. And this is happening at a time when we are in desperate need of slowing down and helping one another through cultural and economic confusion we haven’t experienced since the depression.
Face to Face Contact is the Way to Connect with People
At St. Vincent de Paul, the backbone of our entire organization’s mission is face to face communication with people who need help. Rather than using phones, computers and other gadgets to connect with people, we meet face to face in the home, the hospital, the jail or wherever people who need help feel comfortable. We prefer the home, because that is where people are the most comfortable, and we can do the home visit at a time convenient with them. We have been doing face-to-face visits since 1833 in France, 1845 in the US and 1920 in Seattle and King County. We have always done home visits. Why?
St. Vincent de Paul believes home visits are dignified, because we treat people politely and with respect. This helps us remove barriers, get to the truth and figure out the help and assistance that are needed. One of our volunteers in Seattle explained home visits in a way that makes sense now and as it did in 1833: “People are not seen anymore. They feel lost, they feel disconnected. We need to remember they are people, they are someone else’s child, they have feeling, and they have hopes and aspirations.” These visits are designed to create a trusting relationship. They are not simply a transaction. We believe you have to help people where they are going to feel the most comfortable and that is in their home. When you are in their home, you can see and feel what people might need. The reality is that the experts on communications, technology, and social service believe very deeply that person to person communication is essential in the human experience. It’s sort of like “the plan for the future should be to honor the past.”
Experts Support Face to Face
Sherry Turkle is Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT. She has a doctorate in sociology and personality psychology from Harvard University and is a licensed clinical psychologist. She has been studying our changing relationships with digital culture for over three decades, charting how mobile technology, social networking, and sociable robotics are changing our work, families, and identity. She has authored three books on people and technology. Her most recent book, Alone Together, is a best-seller.
Sherry Turkle Key Observations
“We remake ourselves and our relationships with each other through our new intimacy with machines. We recreate ourselves as online personae and give ourselves new bodies, homes, jobs, and romances. Yet, suddenly, in the half-light of virtual community, we may feel utterly alone.”
“As we distribute ourselves, we may abandon ourselves. As we instant-message, e-mail, text, and Twitter, technology redraws the boundaries between intimacy and solitude. Teenagers avoid making telephone calls, fearful that they ‘reveal too much.’ They would rather text than talk.”
“Adults, too, choose keyboards over the human voice. It is more efficient, they say. Things that happen in “real time” take too much time. In all of this, there is a nagging question: Does virtual intimacy degrade our experience of the other kind and, indeed, of all encounters, of any kind?”
2010 Time Magazine Article Study References
According to a 2010 Time Magazine article on computer technology and communication, “with all of the technology at our disposal that aims to make us more connected, research shows we are more disconnected than ever.” According to the Time article, researchers in a Duke University Study found that from 1985 to 2004, the percentage of people who said there was no one with whom they discussed important matters tripled, to 25%; the same study found that overall, Americans had one-third fewer friends and confidants than they did two decades ago.
Consider the findings, the Time piece says, of a study from George Mason University and the University of Illinois, which says as empathy wanes, so does trust. And without trust, you can’t have a cohesive society. The study says “high-tech communications like strip away the personal interaction needed to breed trust because they have fewer cues like eye contact and posture for people to rely on. The author of the study said even in the workplace trust is a necessary condition for effective cooperation within a group. They went on to say that “something is being gained, but something is being lost. The something gained is time, and the something lost is the quality of relationships. And quality of relationships matters.”