Can We Talk, Please?

By John LaFauci

I had made my daily morning walk out to the Providence Journal box at the end of the driveway to pick up my paper. You know the paper I’m speaking of. It used to be delivered in the morning, and again in the afternoon, and it was a whole lot heavier when I had to deliver it as a boy.

The first article that struck my eye was the closing of the Benny’s chain. I was saddened, but accepted it as an economic trend that seems to be taking over our country. The Benny’s closing only piggybacked on to the closing of Sears stores, Radio Shack, Toys R Us and malls all over the United States. As is the case with change, both social and economic, we seem to find new ways to accomplish the same results and move along without much fanfare. This one seems to trouble me a bit more than other changes that we have gone through but not for the reasons you might think.

With the recent acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon, the increase in Walmart’s online delivery service and other new ways of purchasing goods (Pea Pod from Stop & Shop, ready-made meal deliveries to the home, 90-day prescription deliveries), we have become a country where it is very easy for anyone to sit at their computer, order anything that they need, get it delivered the next day, pay for it with their credit card and never have any contact, either verbal or physical, with another human being. I think this is what upsets me more than the actual method of purchasing products. Slowly but surely, we are getting away from having any contact with those around us. Our ability to converse with others in any situation is escaping us at an alarming rate.

Verbal communication is being replaced with blogs, Facebook rants, cyberbullying and tweets. No one speaks with anyone face to face about their concerns. All communication is done via the computer, which leaves little in the form of human contact. We don’t know or want to know the people whom we are dealing with either in business or in life. More and more young professionals are now working from home two, three or even five days a week. They seldom go to the office and have face-to-face meetings. Everything is handled with Skype or FaceTime. What kind of interpersonal skills can they possibly be developing when there is little or no physical contact with the world outside the home office? When even the President of the United States tweets on a daily basis, what does this say about the inability of the human race to converse with others to solve the ills of the world?

I am not sure if we are becoming a country where everyone fears and distrusts others, but it seems that any human contact with our neighbors and associates is becoming a thing of the past. People are comfortable staying in their houses, home schooling their children, having meals delivered to the door by a FedEx or UPS truck and never having to go out and deal with others face to face.

I recall as a child when people who owned two cars were considered wealthy and must have been somehow related to the Rockefellers, JP Morgan, or Getty. Now, it almost makes sense to get rid of that second car since there is no real need to pay the insurance, gas and maintenance of a vehicle that is going to sit in the garage while all business is being conducted on a seat in front of the computer in the study. Are we heading towards a way of life where no one knows their neighbors and helps them in times of need? Does a hurricane or other natural disaster need to be the binding force that brings people out of their private lifestyles?

Buying goods online is nothing more than an economic change in history along with many of the other changes brought about by the power of the computer. It does not mean that we need to lose the ability to verbally communicate with each other on a regular basis. That is what separates us from the animals and allows us to be the great civilization that we are. If we lose that ability, we can no longer call ourselves the United States of America. We become nothing more than random people living in the same geographic area.

Anyway, I guess I’ve now fallen prey to my own computer writing this article. Right after I order my next book for my Kindle on Amazon, I’m going to take the dog for a walk, get some fresh air and see if my neighbors really do exist. Maybe if they are outside, I’ll even talk with them. Wow, what a novel idea!!