“Can you remember the last time you were in a public space in America and didn’t notice that half the people around you were bent over a digital screen, thumbing a connection to somewhere else?” asks professor of psychology Barbara L. Fredrickson in a New York Times op-ed published in March.
The piece goes on to explain the link between our brains and our hearts and how the brain-heart connection is affected by social interactions (or lack thereof). The more we connect with each other face to face, the better we are at forming relationships and experiencing empathy.
When you share a smile or laugh with someone face to face, a discernible synchrony emerges between you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings, come to mirror each other. It’s micro-moments like these, in which a wave of good feeling rolls through two brains and bodies at once, that build your capacity to empathize as well as to improve your health.
So the next time you see a friend, or a child, spending too much of their day facing a screen, extend a hand and invite him back to the world of real social encounters. You’ll not only build up his health and empathic skills, but yours as well. Friends don’t let friends lose their capacity for humanity.
I’ve explored similar perspectives of our technology is rewiring our brains, especially when it comes to human interactions. Most recently I wrote a short essay on Medium about my experience living without a smartphone and how connected I felt, yet at the same time distanced from the actual environment in front of me.
Even though features like Facetime have the amazing potential of traversing distances to bring us together, it remains to be seen how much the technology is embedding itself into our brains and hearts. Are we connecting with one another or merely falling in love with a machine?