Last week, my husband and I were in line at a big box store. As we waited, we noticed the customer in front of us talking on her cell phone as the cashier rang up her items. While watching her continue to talk on her phone, the cashier silently rang up the items and announced the total. The transaction ended with the customer still on her phone, not once having acknowledged the cashier. What was most interesting is that as we began our transaction, the cashier commented that she tried a few times to engage the customer in basic conversation and greetings. She tactfully expressed her frustration that she was ignored by the cell-phone wielding customer. I was struck by how a brief exchange (or lack thereof) between cashier and customer can provide an illustration of the dying art of social interaction. It should come as no surprise that face-to-face interaction is proven by studies to comfort us and provide us with some important sense of well-being, whether it’s with friends or friendly cashiers in the checkout line of your local grocery store. There’s something intangibly real and valuable about talking with someone face to face. This is significant for friends, partners, potential employers and other recurring people that make up your everyday world. That person becomes an important existing human connection, not just someone whose disembodied text voice pops up on your cell phone, iPad or computer screen. Is it now the norm to talk on a cell phone while your cashier rings up your items? Why do a few minutes of face-to-face exchange at the checkout line with a stranger matter? A study conducted by the Institute for Mind and Biology found that rats living in groups lived 40 percent longer than those housed by themselves, and also recovered more quickly from illness. This experiment has been extended to comparing lonely and social humans and although the trial is still running, early indications show the lonely people don’t recover as quickly from illness, don’t sleep as well and have higher systolic blood pressure. The early trial conclusions state that social interaction helps people be healthier and live longer. Technology can have a positive or negative effect on human interaction. Talk about the ultimate double-edged sword. However, some technological advances cause people to be distracted, overly stressed and increasingly isolated. Are these symptoms limited to just the person using the technology? No. There is impact on the receiver as well. So, our use of technology should not be examined merely through our eyes, but through the eyes of those around us too. A double-edged sword must be handled very gingerly. The key is to analyze how technology affects you socially. Do technologies help you build positive, meaningful relationships, or do technologies hinder this process? Are you better able to communicate, listen and share because of the technologies in your life? Do you use technologies to improve your relationships and build new ones? Are you letting a few choice people know who you are and what you contribute to this world, or are you merely distracting yourself with shallow pursuits? Does technology increase or decrease your concern for others, your compassion for others and your desire to serve them? Such are the critical questions regarding technology and social development. Evolution of human curiosity, along with science and technology, has allowed man to create immensely powerful and effective machines. With reward comes responsibility. While the masses tout advancements in technology as exceedingly valuable, we should also promote the importance of staying connected in human ways. A good way to start is by smiling, making eye contact and saying hello to your neighborhood cashier. Until next time…be well. Diane Bigler is a licensed clinical social worker who lives in Platte City with her family. She may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.