NELDON: Don’t take human interaction for granted

During happy hour at just about any pub in America, an observant person could look around at tables and stools packed full of people, and, no matter how diverse the crowd, find a commonality at almost every table — and not just the cold beverages in front of them.

Typically, very close to those drinks is a portable device that connects us to just about any person or piece of information our hearts desire. Meanwhile, with present company across the table, heads nod downward, cell phones in hand as we respond to texts, check emails, snap photos, etc. 

Years before this pandemic separated us, we were disconnected. Conversations regressed from telephone calls to text messages and emails. Children began learning to type almost as soon as they were able to write their names. Computer learning was integrated into classrooms, substituting book research with online searches.

To be sure, these devices have come in handy as we have been physically separated. Apps and software have allowed us to see our loved ones even when we cannot be in the same room. In these months apart, we have gathered virtually for everything from church services to fitness classes.

However, sophisticated our devices are, though, nothing replaces the feeling of making eye contact during conversation without a screen separating us. No tablet or cell phone can provide the hugs or handshakes many of us have craved these past few months. When we are sad, we need a shoulder to lean on. When we are happy, we high-five or hug our friends. We hold hands with loved ones, share meals across tables, klink glasses in toast — all things that cannot truly be substituted over devices.

In this time when we have relied so heavily on technology to remain connected, my hunch that there is no comparable substitute for in-person interaction has been confirmed.

Make no mistake — I understand and agree with social distancing measures put in place to slow the spread of coronavirus and keep us all safe. Even as the economy reopens, I know we must keep our physical distance, refraining from touching one another or even standing too close.

Just as our economies are taking baby steps toward safely reopening, I understand human connection has to move in phases. We will need to slowly and incrementally let down barriers of human touch — but, as this virus begins to become eradicated, I take comfort knowing that we can at least be in the same room together.

As businesses reopen and we are able to share space with others again, I hope others will join me in proceeding with caution, heeding advice from experts to prevent another spike in cases of this virus.

When we are finally able to share another person’s company, though, I hope we will all truly appreciate the value of in-person human interaction.   

When you feel comfortable to dine out at a restaurant, do yourself a favor and silence your cell phone, tuck it into a pocket or purse, and fully engage with the person across from you.

After all, we have been apart long enough.