In my country today is Father’s Day . This morning my 17-year old son and my 20-year old daughter handed me their handwritten wishes. They were wonderful as usual, and made me feel their love. Shortly after I read from a Facebook friend that his younger daughters had sent their wishes via WhatsApp, and I could sense some pride in his words.
I am happy for him he felt that way, but I would not. There are certain things that won’t be replaced by digital assets, and those two tender handwritten notes are the perfect example. Father’s Day would not be the same without the gesture of handing over those little notes or making me find them somewhere, pretty much like I did with my father: under the dish or under the pillow or in the inside pocket of his jacket. Touching that paper, looking at the different handwriting, at those discontinuities that show when they had second thoughts about the choice of a word, comparing those notes year over year to just see how their handwriting has changed and they have grown into teenagers and beyond. These emotions will be lost when all we’ll be left with will be a bunch of digital cards, messages sent and received among hundreds of others, lost in the background noise of social media.
Does this make me a luddite? Does the fact that I still feel the importance of a physical contact with the written words mean I am a dinosaur who is ready for extinction? Or are there emotions that cannot be replaced by anything digital?
As people around the world cry for more digital economy, digital business, digital government, digital education, we should take a deep breath and reflect about the long term implications of these changes in many aspects of our lives.
When I was a kid I used to accompany my mother for some errands at the local stores: the grocery, the bakery, the butcher. In each of those there was an opportunity to chat and get to know people living in the neighborhood. Me and my wife shop in large malls where we get in and get out without meeting anybody we actually know. My kids will have merchandise talk to them and smart shopping even anticipating their needs, most likely without moving from their couch.
When I was a kid I would go to the restaurant with parents or friends to have a good time and a good conversation. Today as I look around at people sitting at restaurants they are all having virtual conversations with people who are not at their table or – at most – looking for other restaurants’ ratings to compare. My kids will probably have meals at their place in a virtual environment with other folks, without sharing the same place and time.
Indeed we’ll achieve wonderful things and the quality of life for many of us will improve. Preventative health care, better emergency services, more personalized education, much more information and much more relevant for any decision we need to take. But inevitably we will be losing a few things. The magic of a letter at Father’s Day is one of them. The real question is whether we know which kind of people we’ll become when they are all gone.