A few years ago I wandered through the cobblestone streets of the historic Casco Viejo neighborhood in Panama City, Panama. In the midst of gentrification, the area was an eerie juxtaposition of old and new. You could pass by a hipster cafe with a facade painted in vibrant shades of pinks and blues, and 10 steps further down you’d peek through crumbling stucco walls into abandoned, roofless buildings. You could practically hear the ghosts whispering.
As I strolled through the alleys, I came across this old relic of the past: a phone booth. Remember these? There was a time when these played an important, necessary role in our lives. There was a time when the telephone itself was an important part of our lives. But now, even that era seems to be fading.
Je t’aime. French for I love you.
It conjures images of the past, perhaps of a young man calling his lover to whisper sweet assurances. The scene grabbed me then, and it reaches out to me again now. But I suppose it strikes me most because as I find myself so far from home, the phone has the power to let me say, and hear, those words: I love you.
Yet the problem lies in the simple fact that phone calls are becoming as archaic as the phone booth. In our digitally connected world, it’s easy to feel close to someone through texts, emails, and social media, even when they’re on the other side of the planet. But that feeling of connection is misleading.
I am not only what I post on facebook. My days are not only what I show on instagram. My emotions are not only what I describe in my blog. There is so much more to a human being than can be grasped from behind a screen. Life is about human connection, and when you can’t be there to wrap your arms around someone, the closest you can come is your voice. Your real, live, smiling, breathing, crying, laughing voice.
Your voice can make all the difference. It can establish a connection. It can be silent and listen to the emotions behind words, and gain insight into their real meaning. Your voice can offer comfort or concern in a way that text can’t. There is no ambiguity with voice. There is no wondering what tone that message was meant in, because the tone is there, in real life.
The internet can be a wonderful and powerful communication tool, but it will never substitute for real human interaction. So the next time you want to talk with someone, pick up the phone. Call him. Call her. Call me. It feels so much better to hear je t’aime, than to read it.