Computers Can’t Smile Back

Technology has changed the way we live our lives and interact with each other.

Today, I downloaded some information on the World Wide Web. I ordered a gift for a friend on the Shopping Channel. I transferred funds, and paid some bills through direct bill payment, on my telephone. I talked to 8 answering machines. I faxed a few people, and a few people faxed me. I ordered a pay-per-view movie for my television set. I e-mailed several business associates on the Internet.

Later in the day I visited a garden centre to purchase some hanging baskets and I ended up paying for them with a machine. No check-out person, no human contact necessary, whatsoever. I just picked out my items, scanned them in, and put the money into a slot. Progress?

It was a productive day, and yet, it felt almost flat, plastic. I had not spoken to or physically touched anyone. No one had physically touched or spoken to me. I smiled at no one, and no one smiled back at me. I did not look into another person’s eyes, and no one looked into mine.

Technology is wonderful, efficient, time saving. We now have more money to spend and more time to spend it, and yet as a society, we are apparently more unhappy than we have ever been. We have done so much to feed our minds, but what about our souls? Our souls are starving!

Our senses are under-nourished. Receiving an electronic mail message on my computer, is not the same as receiving a hand written letter in my mail box. On the days when I actually receive one, I cherish the moment. I make myself a cup of lemon tea and sip it, while I savor every little thing about the letter or card or note. I have been very fortunate to have a friend in my life who sends hand painted envelopes with magnificent lettering. When I receive one, I keep the envelope out on my desk for days, and delight in its beauty every time I look at it.

Letter writing for me is the happiest part of my day. I have a Queen Anne desk with enough stationery to open a store of my own, a Waterman fountain pen, 10 colors of ink, water colours, prisma colours, confetti, sparkles, sealing wax and some delightful things to include with my letters, as well as special stamps to match their envelopes. Nothing gives me more joy than dropping the letters into the big, red mailbox on their way to someone out there. Someone who’s day will be brightened unexpectedly.

When we sit down to write a letter, and actually put ink on paper, it seems we are magically transported to a place inside where it becomes easier to tell people how we really feel. I have said things in a letter, I would never have been able to say in person. And a physical letter can be saved and read over and over again. I keep mine in a beautiful, handmade, marble box, and take them out and reread them, when I’m in need of a lift.

Recently, I received two very special letters. One from Dr. Leo Buscaglia, whom I have admired for years. Every time I read that letter, and I have read it over and over again, I am moved by his kind words of inspiration, encouragement and appreciation. He will never know how very much it meant to me.

And the other letter was from my aunt in Ontario, Canada. In all the years I have known her and loved her, she has never told me how she feels, nor I her. She was responding to a Christmas poem I had written and sent to her. She was moved by the poem, and so proud of the niece who had written it, and of the things she has accomplished. I never knew she felt that way about me, until now, and I was touched by her words more than I can say. I will cherish that letter for always.

It’s the little things in life, the little joys, like a letter, a good book, a flower, a song, the sound of laugher, a favorite magazine, a smile, coffee with a good friend, the physical things, that we can actually see, touch, hear, taste, hold, feel, smell, share, savor and delight in, that make such a difference in our overall happiness. The beautiful things of our world that we create and give to one another.

We are physical beings. We have many senses. We need to use them all.

I know the Internet has libraries of information just waiting for me to access. But I like going to the library. I remember the first time I visited the library as a young child. It was the same feeling I had the very first time I saw the great Rocky mountains. I was overwhelmed. All that vastness and wisdom just waiting. I loved to walk among the rows and rows of books, and choose some, and touch the pages, and read the words, or go to the magazine section, and flip through all the stories, and look at all the wonderful pictures.

One of my dreams has always been to have a huge library in my own home. A special room, filled with walls and walls of wonderful books. New books, that I can’t wait to read, and old books, luxurious leather bound books, that tell stories of real people, with inscriptions from years gone by. My idea of ecstasy would be to sit in that room, in a glorious winged back chair, beside a roaring fireplace, and loose myself in the worlds that await me there. Reading information on a computer screen will never take the place of that.

Nothing can replace the real thing.

Technology definitely has its place, but it can never replace real people. A special part of my week is seeing my favorite check out girl at the grocery store. I smile when I see her, and she smiles back. Computers and gadgets can’t do that.