Like millions of others, I am getting virtual holiday cards this season from family and friends and business associates. You know, the ones with elaborate graphics or cute animated wishes. Some people also send them for birthdays and other occasions. Well, call me a Grinch, but, to me, they count for nothing. I immediately delete them.
Why? Because they’re all lies. Technology has allowed people to replace true intention to such an extent that they can send a virtual greeting card to everyone on their mailing lists with no investment of time, thought or money. They don’t need to personally address the card. They don’t need to lick a stamp. They don’t even need to decide whether they can afford to send 100 cards or 10,000 cards. It can all be done for free. And you know why? Because it has no genuine value.
I’d rather have five people call me and wish me a Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah than have 5,000 people send me a mass text or mass email with lots of animated bells and whistles screaming the same sentiment. Because it isn’t the same sentiment. Phone calls require human effort and a willingness to engage in a spontaneous two-way conversation — with the incalculable power and subtleties of speech. Something said haltingly has its own meaning. Something declared without a hint of doubt has its own meaning. A person who says “I love you” to a friend over the phone is really saying something (especially, say, if both happen to be men, reluctant to verbalize such things). A person who says it by email or text or a virtual greeting card is saying far, far less.
You know what? I’d take one person stopping at my door just to say “Merry Christmas, I really care about you” over 15,000 texts, emails or anything else facilitated by some app or by that biggest virtual interpersonal fibber called Facebook.
Consider this: Several months ago, a team of researchers from Oregon Health & Science University studied 11,000 adults over the age of 50 to see what sorts of interpersonal contact might stave off clinical depression. They learned that only in-person contact (and the more frequent, the better) had the power to do that. Even video chats couldn’t do that.
See, virtual communication has an inherent depersonalizing effect — on the person initiating the communication and the person receiving it. Or, as Marshall McLuhan so astutely put it, “The medium is the message.”
When we allow ourselves more and more frequently to pour our best intentions toward others through the meaning-grinder of technology, what comes out no longer carries the nuance, intensity and interpersonal power that God gave us.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.