Originally written in TACKED THOUGHTS for The Freeman
by Nancy Unchuan Toledo
Over the summer, I went to Manila for a short seminar. Since I had gone to a university that was unfamiliar to me, I had the experience of being directed from one office to another while the staff tried to figure out how to help me. I have no idea what it was that day, but of the three offices that I had visited, just as I was about to introduce myself and my predicament, I would be interrupted by a phone call. In all three instances, the person manning the office excused herself and proceeded to answer the call.
And as I sat there and listened to them troubleshoot whatever the caller needed, I began to wonder when it became socially acceptable to make one live person wait to answer to the needs of another person who could not be bothered to make a visit. How did it become the norm to consider a person standing in front of us less significant than the disembodied voice on the phone?
I do not pose that question with contempt or even with complaint. I might as easily have been that person answering the call instead of entertaining the guest. But I am seriously confused to realize that we are increasingly taking the face-to-face interaction for granted. That we place a greater value on those who are not around than those who are.
Maybe it is the way our ringers are programmed—they are so loud and insistent that we might subconsciously feel that the message they convey must be urgent. Or maybe we feel that since we can excuse ourselves with non-verbal language to people in front of us, it would be ruder to leave a phone unattended. Or maybe we expect those that are familiar with us to be more forgiving. Or maybe… I have honestly run out of ideas because I don’t know why we would do so.
In a technologically savvy world where gadgets and programs have to be continuously updated—to be the fastest, the best and the most advanced—we can lose sight of what is most important. I am afraid that I am slowly losing touch with what is essential. The digital world can suck me in just like that—two hours lost updating profile and scanning photos on a social networking site, another hour answering emails and phone calls and at least thirty minutes going over and answering texts. So much time wasted that I could have spent visiting my aging grandmother, playing with my niece and nephew, catching up with my parents.
I hope that as I go about my duties in the office and find myself in a position to choose between speaking to a person face to face or answering a phone call, I will remember how it felt when I was on the other side of the desk. I hope that in my quest catch up with the latest trends, I will remember not just the medium, or even the message, but the face that uttered them. And I hope that as I struggle to update myself, I will remember that the digital phase, while exciting and useful, is still just a phase. And that ultimately, the personal face is more important than the digital phase.