Newsletter 632 – The Practical Side of Face-to-Face Contact


sisan pinker 2Should you take time to read Susan Pinker’s book The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter? For me, Pinker’s book isn’t a “must read” but fits the “recommended reading” category if you work with people. Last week’s newsletter (#631) introduced the book but here are several subjectively-selected, potentially-practical conclusions. Like most of the book, each is documented by easily-understood research summaries and the author’s face-to-face interviews.

  • Internet training programs can be useful but contact with a skilled teacher is better. Consider this: “Policy-makers get a lot more from parent and teacher training programs than from investing in expensive—highly perishable—classroom technology.” Does this apply to on-line training or college courses? Surely the best distance learning includes conversations with instructors and peers as opposed to watching video lectures passively. [Personal perspective: I have taught both approaches. The interactive courses involve more engagement, more active participation, and undoubtedly more effective learning for both teacher and student.]
  • “Even though we all need face-to-face contact, one approach does not fit all.” What does this say about church programs that expect everyone to grow equally in identical pre-programed small groups?
  • Live human contact has major business implications. There are benefits to letting employees work from home on individual schedules but this needs to be limited. Without face-to-face interaction at work, productivity and creativity go down. Even Google has designed a headquarters where workers have opportunity to ‘bump into colleagues and have real conversations [because without this] innovation and social cohesion take a hit.”
  • When companies cut costs by reducing the number of employees, eliminating training, paying “basement-level wages,” or blocking benefits and opportunities for advancement, profits can drop and customers often move elsewhere. Same with companies where cost-cutting involves “deploying robots or foreign call centers whose agents know nothing about the business and are paid per call so they try to make it fast by passing you off to someone else.” There’s a price to be paid for replacing human contact.

The book has implications for counseling, leadership, education at all levels, marketing, family therapy, ministry, health, stress management and the ability to recover from disasters. You get the point. “Despite the clear advantages of the Internet, if we want to be happy, healthy, long-lived, [productive] and clever, then we need to find ways to spend more time with each other face-to-face.” How does this apply to you? Please comment.



  1. “How does this apply to you? Please comment.”
    My nearest colleagues reside in other states and countries.
    We try to connect audibly and visually at least weekly via ooVoo.
    This keeps us coordinated and motivated better than e-mail could.


    1. Thanks Galen. Like you, I have Internet conversations (for me Skype or Face Time) that let me keep in frequent contact with several friends on other continents. These are the next best thing to “face-to-face” in the same room.


  2. Gary,

    I’m a huge fan and a frequent reader of your blog. I’m also a former newspaper editor who knows that words ending in “ly” aren’t hyphenated. For example, my old friend at the New York Times would disapprove of the phrases “subjectively-selected, potentially-practical conclusions…” Instead, it should read subjectively selected, potentially practical conclusions. The hyphens are superfluous and grammatically incorrect. At least that’s what I learned and why my friend who’s a grammartician at the NYT would say.

    Hope you are well, and keep on blogging!! Blessings,



  3. Scott, I loved your comment. Of course you are right. “subjectively” and “potentially” are adjectives and hyphens are not needed.
    Here is a question for you: How does this apply to phrases like “blue eyed, curly headed little girl” or “far away, totally different countries?” And while we are at it, in the previous sentence, where should I put the question mark? Inside or outside the quotation mark? BTW, I realize that the previous question is not a complete sentence.
    See what you opened up? Maybe some day I will learn how to write good English. I am always open to your editing.


  4. I agree with the comments in this post. I received the majority or should I say all of my graduate education on line. It was the best possible solution for me at the time. It required a great deal of adjustment. I believe I would have fared far better if there had been at least periodic face-to-face contact with the instructor or with other students. The way I managed was sharing the content of my education with people in my social network .


    1. You hit a critical element in distant learning. Passive watching of on-line presentations is not nearly as effective as Internet courses that have some face-to-face integration. I know of one school, probably more, where students sit in rooms, go through the pre-recorded courses silently, then have a five or ten minute Q and A at the end of the hour if they have questions. Very limited time for discussion. All tests are multiple-choice that tests rote memory but no real comprehension of the material. That distresses me a lot.

      As you point out, however, sometimes passive Internet learning is the only educational resource available or possible for busy people who can’t go off to an expensive college far from their homes and who need to learn at home. You did a very commendable thing: you shared your learning with others. Probably this was of interest to them and it boosted your learning because you forced yourself to process the information so it could be shared.


  5. Nothing takes the place of face-to-face interactions to deepen relationships. It saddens me how much people everywhere get caught up on their electronics.
    As professionals we need to be careful our emphasis is not primarily in efficiency, maximizing income and numbers. If we are not careful we will become a society increasingly doing what is right in our own eyes because the relationships won’t be deep enough nor caring enough to make lasting meaningful impact.


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