When I was a child, one of my favorite family outings in Chicago was to the Museum of Science and Industry. It had the coolest exhibits: a giant heart that you could walk through, a coal mine, and a real German U-boat you could climb into. But one of my favorite exhibits featured communication technology. It featured sleek new designs for telephones, including touchtone models that were just starting to appear in people’s homes.
In the communications exhibit were futuristic models called “picture phones.” Imagine the fun of dialing a number and seeing your friend across the miles as you spoke with her! Imagine indeed.
Somehow, the fact that this childhood dream of mine has become a reality hasn’t awoken my sense of wonder. My daughter in New York routinely “FaceTimes” me while walking the city streets or lounging in her apartment. I enjoy seeing her lovely face as we talk and try not to dwell on the little aging visage in the corner, the image that she sees.
FaceTime and Skype ostensibly solve one of the issues I have always had with talking on the phone. It’s important to me to see the facial reactions of someone to whom I’m speaking. I can gauge the subtext of their words better face to face. And for loved ones living in far flung places, these face to face calls are a small antidote to homesickness. (Remember calling home from college on Sunday nights when the rates were lowest?)
In my childhood, I imagined a “picture phone” as a giant screen on a wall in your home and wondered whether someone’s face would just suddenly appear there, catching you in your pajamas. My sisters and I would wait patiently in line for our turn to use the new-fangled contraption. We could not have imagined that in a few decades we’d be carrying tiny computers around and have the ability not only to see each other’s faces on the phones but communicate by email and text as well.
Still, even in this world of advanced technology where people would rather text or SnapChat each other than actually speak, there is no substitute for real face time. Coffee with a friend, stories shared around the table at family dinner, late night debriefings with our teens: these are the true opportunities to connect. In a world of endless possibilities for staying in touch, let’s never forget the most elemental of all.