Megan Oliverio, M.A.
In a time in which communicating with anyone in our lives can be done by the click of a button, it is not hard to stay in touch. Arguably, this can make the move away from friends and family easier. With the help of technology, speaking with and even seeing those who are most important to us can be easily arranged. But recently I’ve wondered if this technology can really help to relieve the loneliness that we can feel when being separated from those we love.
As a transplant to Chicago, I have moved away from the majority of my friends and family. I am able to make the trip home regularly, but when I cannot, I rely on technology to help connect me to my loved ones. Recently, I missed celebrating my mother’s birthday in person. In an effort to help fill the void that I knew we were both experiencing with my absence, I made sure we video chatted a few times throughout the day.
At the end of the day I found myself typing to her, “I’m thankful for modern technology.” She quickly replied, “I am too, but it’s not the same.” Looking at her response, I was left feeling guilty and let down. It was my hope that seeing her face while she opened a present from me would help to lessen the blow of my inability to take the time off to see her, but that had not been enough.
I sat and thought about how exactly it was not the same. What was missing from our exchanges? I began to think of the five senses, and that half of those typically exercised in our relationship had been missing. She could see me, but she could not touch me. She couldn’t hug me and give me a kiss, she couldn’t display her love for me in this way. I could hear her, but I couldn’t smell her. I was not there to take in the smells of my childhood home—the unique way the home itself smelled, the aroma of dinner and dessert, and the same perfume my mom had worn her entire life. As I thought of missing out on these experiences, I realized my mother was right, it was not the same.
Interpersonally we typically employ a number of our senses. We can hear the distinct voice and cadence of our loved ones, and see all of their unique features. Though when we are interacting in person, there is so much more to our interaction. We can feel our loved ones through their touch, be it a friendly hug or a meaningful kiss; we are able to smell them – the unique and memorable scent of mom’s perfume; and when considering lovers, their taste cannot be ignored. Our senses help to organize our experience, and missing out on even a few of them creates an experience that just isn’t the same.
Can technology help to ease the burden of living long distance? Of course. Does it have the ability to replace the experience of being together? I don’t think so. I don’t think anything can replace a hug from a loved one, or the presence of a best friend. For that, we must be present and engaged, and use our senses.