| December 4, 2015

Dating, Fatherhood, Friendship, Marriage, Podcast, Relationships & Family, Social Skills

Podcast #160: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make You Healthier, Happier, and Smarter

This past year I’ve really been doing a lot of thinking and researching about the benefits of social connections that aren’t mediated by screens. Not only do I want to find ways to incorporate more face-to-face conversation in my own life, but I’m also looking for ways to help others build stronger ties too. A few weeks ago, I did a podcast with Sherry Turkle, author of Reclaiming Conversation about her research into the power of conversation. Today I talk to another author whose work has had a profound influence on my thinking about the topic. Her name is Susan Pinker and she’s the author of The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make You Healthier, Happier, and SmarterIn today’s episode, Susan and I discuss all the latest research that shows how frequent face-to-face contact with others not only benefits us emotionally, but even physically as well.

Show Highlights

  • How frequent face-to-face conversations can increase longevity
  • How men and women respond differently to face-to-face conversations (but why both sexes need frequent face-to-face contact)
  • The benefits of strong ties and weak ties
  • The “honest signals” we give off when we interact in person that lead to more trusting relationships
  • How religion contributes to a rich social life (and what you can do to get the same benefit if you’re not religious)
  • How increasing screen time in children is leading to learning and emotional problems
  • Why online dating isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be
  • What you can do to harness the “Village Effect” in your own life
  • And much more!

the village effect book cover susan pinker

If you enjoyed Sherry’s Turkle book Reclaiming Conversation, then you’ll want to pick up a copy of Susan’s book as well. Both authors hit the same topic, but in different ways. While Turkle touches on how conversation can influence individuals, the overarching goal of Reclaiming Conversation seems to be how conversation can benefit us on a macro/societal level. The Village Effect, on the other hand, really digs deep into the research on how conversations and social interactions benefit the individual physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Together, both books make a strong case that we all could use some more conversation in our lives. You can find more information about Susan’s work at susanpinker.com

Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)

available-on-itunes

available-on-stitcher

soundcloud-logo

pocketcasts

Listen to the episode on a separate page.

Download this episode.

Transcript

Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For this past year, I’ve been doing a lot of research on the benefits of face to face conversation, and looking for ways to incorporate it more in my life. One of the books I found extremely helpful in my research is a book called The Village Effect by Susan Pinker. In it, she highlights all this research. Not just the psychological benefits of face to face contact, because I think that’s what we usually focus on when we talk about the benefits of conversation, but also there’s physiological benefits of face to face conversation. It reduces blood pressure, increases longevity, and that’s just to start with. Today on the podcast, I have Susan Pinker on, and we’re going to discuss how face to face contact can make us healthier, happier, and smarter, and how you can get more of it in your life. Let’s do this. Susan Pinker, welcome to the show.

Susan Pinker: Thank you very much.

Brett McKay: Your book is The Village Effect. It’s all about the science of face to face conversation or interaction. I’m curious, was there an experience that you had that inspired your decision to research and write about the benefits of face to face conversation?

Susan Pinker: There was, in fact. When I finished my last book, which was called The Sexual Paradox, I was struck by a puzzle, and that’s that everywhere in the developed world, women live on average 5 to 7 years longer than men do. This sex difference in longevity really puzzled me, and I decided to pursue the question, why is that? I found out a couple of things that started me off on the journey of writing this new book. One was, there is one place in the world where men do live as long as women and where people live extraordinarily long lives in general, and that’s a place in Sardinia, part of Italy. I decided to go there and explore a little bit more about what’s going on there. That was one the reasons.

The other is I found some emerging research from the field of social neuroscience that was very clear that our relationships have a huge impact on how long we live and how healthy we are.

Brett McKay: I think that’s interesting. Most people think about, when they think about social interaction, they think about how it affects you emotionally. It’s good for if you’re depressed, you get out there and speak with people. They don’t really think about the physiological benefits of it. What did you discover in this small town in Italy? What was it about social interaction that contributed to longevity in both men and women?

Susan Pinker: I’m going to give you two answers to that question. In terms of Sardinia, what was most striking in terms of the experience is that older people, and people there live into their hundreds, many to 105, 110. What’s extraordinary is that unlike here in North America, they are never left alone. They are always surrounded by friends and family. That struck me, especially since I was creating a radio documentary about this phenomenon, and I could never get any clean take, because they were always surrounded as I say in their living rooms with 4, 6, sometimes 8 people who were constantly with them. Which is very much in contrast to the way we age in America, where essentially you’re left alone most of the time. Where solitude is part of your experience.

That’s one part of the question. The other part of the question is that there’s new emerging evidence from the field of social neuroscience that our body and brain really don’t distinguish between emotional and physiological benefits or harms. In other words, if you feel lonely, or if you feel sad or abandoned or isolated, that is going to have a direct impact on hour heart rate, how well you heal from wounds, how easily you’re going to lose your memory, how well you’re going to recover from cancer. This was completely shocking to me and very new.

Brett McKay: I thought it was interesting, throughout the book you talked about the differences between men and women. You call it the female effect. How does socialization affect men and women differently?

Susan Pinker: For one thing, women have evolved specific hormonal pathways that allow them … We’ve evolved them initially to allow us to communicate with nonverbal babies and children, small children, so when women reach out to others, oxytocin is released and this makes them feel great. It also tamps down their stress levels and increase their immunity, not just oxytocin but dopamine and other neurotransmitters and hormones. That’s one of the physiological clues.

It also has to do with the way women live their lives and the priorities that they set for themselves. Research from social science tells us that women spend a lot more time building, grooming, prioritizing their relationships. Most people can see that they spend more time initially talking over their porches, their back fences, than using telephone. Now it could be using Skype. In general, they choose jobs where they work with people they like and respect, where they have a lot of social contact, and they tend to enjoy life much more when they spend time with friends and family, and they make that priority number one.

On average, this is not the same for men. One of the really huge sex differences is what happens when you lose your spouse. This is a piece of research called the widowhood effect. We’ve known this for several hundred years, that men who are single die faster than men who are married, and especially men who are married who lose their wives are at tremendous risk of dying themselves within the first 6 months to a year after they’ve been widowed. This is not as true for women, and it’s not beaus women aren’t as sad to lose their spouses. It’s because women tend to have established huge support networks outside their marriage, and so they have lots of friend sand family who are there for them, whereas for men it’s much more often the case that their wife is their only intimate contact. Not only that, but their wives bring in friends and family. Their wives are the ones who invite people for holidays, who send the cards, who make the phone calls, who send over the casseroles or cakes when someone is sick. When they lose their wives, suddenly their face to face social network falls away.

Brett McKay: I thought it was interesting how you pointed out how the differences between men and women socialize … Not that men don’t socialize. You said that women focus more on those tight-knit, close relationships, and men are more focused on weaker ties, or bigger groups? Is that correct?

Susan Pinker: Yeah. I’ll tell you a little anecdote of a couple of people I profiled in the book. This is another occasion when I was very much surprised by my research. I interviewed one fellow who I introduced to the reader at the beginning of the book, John McHogan, who’s a musician and he needs a kidney transplant. He had four compatible people in his network who stepped forward. This is partially because of the type of outgoing, gregarious person he is. But when I asked him, “Give me an example of some of your friends,” he flipped open his phone and he had 350 social contacts. He had this enormous network, but many of them were people he hadn’t seen in many years.

In contrast, one of the women who I thought was fantastically socially integrated into a community, was a great civic participator, had a lot of friends, swam on the swim team, etc. … When I said, “Well, how many people are in your social network?” She said, “15.” What was striking about that is that that surprised me but that’s actually very typical, because women tend to have very tightly-knit, well-integrated, well-woven networks of people who will step forward and help them when they need it.

Men tend to have much larger more dispersed social networks, weaker ties. Think of for example, all the men that someone might know who’s been in the military, or who’s been working in a huge, multinational corporation. Are these people who are going to step forward to bring him to his chemotherapy appointment? Probably not, or there will be very few. Or who will step forward if he needs to borrow $1,000? Probably not. When we look at networks, men’s networks on average tend to be larger but shallower connections. Women tend to have smaller but more tightly knit, interwoven social lives. Many more intimate contacts that they keep in touch with.

Social scientists distinguish between those two kinds of contacts, and we need both of them. We need the close-knit contacts and we need the kind of looser ones that we have with neighbors, colleagues, and friends in the community. The close ones we call social support, and that’s a hugely powerful predictor of our health and how long we live, how many of those contacts we have and how strong they are. But our weaker contacts are important too, and what’s really important about that, Brett, is that that’s changing now. We have many fewer of both types of contacts than we used to, even since the mid-80s, so in one generation, our face to face contacts are diminishing.

Brett McKay: It raises the question, does social media and email and texting, that has no effect on our health, that has no effect on the benefits that come with weak ties? It has to be face to face?

Susan Pinker: It’s early days, so I can’t say it has no effect. I would say it has a differential effect, depending on who you are. I think you could say about your contacts over the internet that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. People who are already outgoing and gregarious and get out there and meet people and see people, they just use whatever online tools they have to do more of that. What is concerning many social scientists is that people who don’t feel comfortable going out there and meeting people, perhaps introverts or people who work long hours or just don’t feel that comfortable reaching out, they use sometimes online contact as a substitute, as opposed to amplify their real social lives. That’s what’s worrisome. I don’t think it’s fair or true to say that the internet is unilaterally a bad thing or erodes our social lives, because I think it’s just not true.

I think what is true, though, is that people tend to conflate the two types of contact, and that is a huge miss and a problem. It would be like saying, eating a drive-through fast food meal in your car is the same thing as sitting down with a group of friends and having a home-cooked meal over wine and chatting for a couple of hours. It’s just not the same. It might still give you a hit of 2,000 calories, but the impact on your body and brain is completely different. Everybody now acknowledges that there’s a difference between, say, eating a chocolate bar and eating a home-cooked meal, or going to the store to pick up milk with your car versus walking there or biking there. We all acknowledge that, but when it comes to social contact, which I might add is the most powerful lifestyle predictor of how long you live, compared to almost anything that you can control, we still haven’t reached the point where we’ve acknowledged that there’s various different types of contact and they’re not all created equal.

Brett McKay: What’s going on with face to face contact that you can’t get in social media or text messaging? What is going on between the two individuals?

Susan Pinker: For one thing, the honest signals that are communicated don’t come across over the screen. I think we’re getting better at getting those signals, but for example, when you’re in person and you’re communicating with somebody, you move forward, the other person moves forward. You move backward, the other person moves backward. You might raise your eyebrows and instinctively the other person does too, showing their surprise at what you’re saying. All these synchronous little cues and acts that you’re together in communicating and receiving the message communicate a sense of trust. It’s very difficult for that to happen over the internet.

There are other things. Even a little pat or high five or handshake or a little slap on the back, those release those hormones and information that are incredibly powerful in terms of your cognitive abilities, your ability to handle stress. The minute somebody touches you in a friendly or supportive way, you get a rush, a release of oxytocin, and those floods of hormones and neurotransmitters just don’t happen over the internet. What happens over the internet is you get information. Information is incredibly useful. It’s a useful part of communication, but that’s not everything that we get out of communication. We’re mammals, essentially, and we’ve evolved to see the whites of each other’s eyes, to be able to understated and generate truss by being near each other.

People who underestimate the kind of nonverbal signals that happen together when you’re in the same place are making a huge mistake. For example, we know now that in salary negotiations, if people are together in the same room and mimic each other precisely, even saying the same words back and forth, the person who’s in the position of requesting a salary increase is going to enjoy a 20-30% boost in salary, if all they do is mimic the other person. It has enormous impact.

We can measure this now in terms of … It’s ironically little iPhone-like devices called sociometers. You can measure, if you take away the content of what’s being said, you can measure the signals that happen face to face and how powerful it is in generating, say, in understanding who is the most cohesive in the group. Let me rephrase that, because that’s not quite true. The sociometers can predict, by crunching all the data, who will be the leader in a group, or which groups will be most cohesive.

To reiterate, we make a mistake when we conflate internet-generated types of communication with the face to face type of communication. They’re just different.

Brett McKay: Going on this idea of mimicry and being in sync with others, you talk about how religion, church, is a great place for this to happen. How does religiosity contribute to someone’s social well-being?

Susan Pinker: There are a couple of ways. What scientists measure when they look at religious participation is just that how often do they go to church, how often do the participate in church activities. They can’t get inside your brain and find out how powerful your belief in God is, but what we do know is that the more you participate in religious activities, the greater your benefit in terms of your health. I think that the impact is really the social element. You are with people, you have an automatic sense of trust by doing things together at the same time. Religion is kind of a shortcut to all sorts of evolutionary ways of knowing that you are with people who are like you. You bow and sing at the same time. You help each other. People who are religious tend to give more blood and give more to charity, for example. All of these acts pull you together as a group. That has an impact on your physiology.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I thought that was interesting, the example you gave of the pastor who would have his congregation say things to each other, and you’re like, “That guy probably read neuroscience studies.” He’s doing exactly what you want to be doing to encourage group cohesiveness.

Susan Pinker: Yeah. What was so surprising to me is that as you started out, when we started to chat, with the question of, this is not fuzzy stuff. When scientists say, like Julianne Holt-Lundstad from Brigham Young University, studies everything about your lifestyle. She takes a huge group of people, 40,000 Americans, and measures everything about them. Their weight, how much they drink, whether or not they’re married, where they live, whether they smoke or have given up smoking, whether they get a flu shot, whether they’ve had a heart attack, whether the air they breathe is clean or polluted, everything about lifestyle that we think so much about, especially things like diet and exercise. Then she just sat still and watched who would still be living and breathing after 7 years, and found that the most powerful predictor, lifestyle predictor, was social contact. More than smoking, more than exercise habits, more than your body mass index, more than your weight, more than cardiac rehab, more than drugs fro hypertension, more than drugs for polluted air. Your social contact was the strongest predictor of how long, who would still be alive after 7 years.

That really struck me. Not just one type of social contact, but two types that I mentioned before, the intimate social contact that we call social support, and what’s called integrated social support. How much you get out there and participate in your community. How often d you get away and out of your office, away from your computer, and see people, whether it’s for civic participation like playing hockey or bowling or volunteering in your church or elsewhere, or if it’s just chatting with your neighbors or card games. It doesn’t actually matter what you do, it just matters that you get out there and do it.

Brett McKay: One way that … Serious static. Are you hearing that?

Susan Pinker: No, I don’t hear any static at all.

Brett McKay: All right. I heard some static. Okay.

One way that people get out there and socialize is through food. I’m curious. What is it about food and drink that brings people together to talk? Anytime someone wants to get together, they’re just like, “Let’s eat and drink.” Is there an evolutionary reason behind that?

Susan Pinker: I think that there is. In The Village Effect, I talk about how when humans evolved and changed from being kind of solitary hunter-gatherers to living in communities, about 10,000 years ago, and that was when agriculture started, more or less, essentially that’s when we had the first evidence of community meals or community feasts. I think it’s extremely important in pulling people together and allowing them to trust each other. Think about it. At a meal you’re usually sitting face to face with people and talking. What’s a little bit, I guess, unnerving, about how this has changed in recent years, is that now people bring their devices to the table. It used to be that there was television on while people were eating, but now people might be eating together and looking at their phones. I think that many of us realize instinctively that we are lessening the experience or getting less of a benefit when we focus on the screen instead of on each other at meals, and that’s why I would say there’s this new emphasis, especially among the hipster generation, or the millennials, to stash their phones before they sit down and have a social occasion, whether it be a meal or drinks together, whatever, because they know that part of the experience of eating and drinking is what happens, not just what you put in your mouth, but as you look at each other and have that back and forth.

Brett McKay: What has the research said about the benefits of, particularly for family meals, on children?

Susan Pinker: That just knocked my socks off. Essentially, if parents just want to change one little thing about family life to improve their child’s prospects, it would be to have more meals together as a family. It sounds kind of hokey, but all the research is pretty much unanimous, and it’s very rare in social science for people to agree. This is one area where there’s almost no dissent. The more often families eat together, the less likely their kids are to drop out of school, to have problems with drugs or anorexia or with teenage pregnancy. Essentially, it’s a huge predictor of how well they will do in school and how long they will stick with it. It’s a huge predictor of their verbal skills and their reading skills.

Now, the why question is somewhat more complex. I don’t think we can say that easily why family meals predict all these great outcomes for kids. I would hazard a guess that when you’re together over a meal, sometimes that’s the only time a family is together. When I was a clinical psychologist I would often ask parents, when do you spend time with Johnny or Jenny or whatever, and most parents just said, “In the car.” In a family meal, you’re usually face to face. You are talking about your day, most of the ti me. You can offer support. You can generally communicate and show some emotional connection with your kids. What’s interesting and alarming about American family life is that much of family life is spent alone. You’re in the house together perhaps but everybody’s in their own room doing their own thing, on their own device, whereas at a family meal, you’re sitting down at the table and you’re interacting, and it’s the interaction that’s key.

Brett McKay: Going off of that, in the past few years there’s been increasing alarm about screen time, particularly for children. Was there any research yet about how screen time affects children’s social and intellectual development?

Susan Pinker: We don’t have all the answers to that question yet, and a lot of the research is correlational, so we don’t know what comes first, but we do know that it’s what we call a dose response effect, meaning the more you drink the drunker you get. The more screen time a kid has, really, the dumber he is in school. It’s really a very brute, unkind way of saying it, and the more behavior problems he or she has. You want to have an impact on your child’s social skills and academic achievement? Reduce screen time. It’s absolutely astounding essentially how the research is pretty unanimous about the effect of screen time.

Now, of course, I think there are kids who are immune to this. There are kids who will do well in school no matter what. These tend to be high income kids. Kids where parents are investing a lot of time and money in their education and their stimulation. I would say for those kids, probably a little bit of screen time or a moderate amount of screen time is probably not going to make a huge difference to them. I would say the middle range of kids and the lower range of kids, either kids who don’t get a lot of their parents’ time, either because their parents are working constantly to keep their heads above water financially or because they’re single parents and they just have to do it all by themselves, or because they’re newly arrived to the United States, or for a whole host of reasons, those kinds of kids are at higher risk of doing more poorly in school because of increased game-playing screen time.

What we know is that obviously not all time spent on the screen is the same kind of time. Some of it could be hugely interesting. You could be reading books online or doing all sorts of challenging things. What we do know is that really the path of least resistance is the rule, that if kids are going home and nobody’s monitoring it, they’re watching movies. They’re downloading moves and porn, if nobody’s home to monitor what they’re doing. We do know that essentially American kids and British kids are spending more time on the screen than on any other activity, including sleeping. That’s the Pew internet research that tells us that. For preschool kids, we’re talking about 4-5 hours at least on the screen a day. They’re sleeping more than that, of course. For school age kids and teenagers, they’re spending more time alone and online than they are doing anything else. Socializing with their parents, with their friends, or in their beds.

Brett McKay: Let’s move on. For our listeners who have kids who are teenagers, you talked about cyber bullying, and I think just recently there was a case here in the United States where a young person committed suicide because of the bullying they received online. What is it about the technology that encourages that sort of behavior online?

Susan Pinker: It’s anonymity. The fact that really it’s the Wild West out there. Nobody really has to own up to the horrible things they say or do online. I’m hoping that will change. For example, in Canada now, cyber bullying has become a criminal offense. I don’t know what will happen The more teenagers commit suicide, perhaps there will be more emphasis on that. Because people do not have to put a face and a name to what they say or do on the internet, there’s a lot of aggression. There are trolls who do awful things on the internet, and the difficult part is that parents cannot really monitor everything that their kids are doing on the internet. Certainly at younger ages, they can control it, because they’re paying the bills, so they can control how many devices the kids have, if there are devices in their rooms, if they’re allowed to have their computers or phones in bed with them, or at mealtimes. They’re essentially controlling the purse strings, so they should be able to say who has what and when to turn it off. As kids get older, it’s harder to know what they’re doing online, and that’s really difficult, because it can have a huge effect on their ability to concentrate and be happy.

Brett McKay: I guess the lack of honest signals contributes as well, because you could possibly know who someone is online, just see an avatar of them, but it’s not the same as being with them face to face.

Susan Pinker: No. That is a huge mistake, and I think that especially for kids who might be vulnerable … Parents mostly know who that is. They know if their kids are fragile and vulnerable, and they worry intensely about them. Those, the vulnerable kids, the ones who are socially isolated, the ones who are struggling in school, the ones who are at some point having a difficult time, are the ones who will be more open to going online more often and seeking contact online with strangers. That’s where the danger lies.

Brett McKay: I thought your section on dating and love was really interesting, because more and more frequently, because people don’t have these villages, face to face contacts as much as they used to, they’re going online to find love. Can you talk about some of the research that shows that online dating isn’t all what it’s cracked up to be?

Susan Pinker: Yeah. I would say that any way that you can meet somebody that allows you to form a rewarding relationship is great, so I’m not knocking dating sites in general, but what I am knocking is their ability to predict who is right for you. There’s not evidence at all that their so-called algorithms do anything of the sort. What often happens on dating sites is that people lie about themselves, so you don’t actually know who you’re meeting when you set up a date and nobody is monitoring that. The research tells us that it’s actually comical, that men tend to exaggerate their height and their income online, and women tend to diminish how much they weight and how old they are online. One of the people I quote in my book said he learned when he went on something like 60 dates with women he’d met online, and he learned to watch out for sunglasses, because women would wear sunglasses to disguise how old they were, even in their photos. They’d post photos of themselves when they were 10 years younger.

I think not that online dating sites are bad, but that there’s really no regulation about what they’re promising you, and it’s essentially a consumer environment out there. Very few people would go out and buy a car or buy a treadmill or make any huge decisions without doing their homework first, and yet they engage in a lot of activity and invest a lot of time and effort in meeting people on these sites where there’s absolutely no regulatory environment.

Brett McKay: It might be good just to, it’s a great way of getting you out there, meeting different people, that face to face contact, then that’s the moment when you can figure out, this I something that will be worth pursuing?

Susan Pinker: I think that’s one thing it’s great for. I think for example if you live in a rural place and you don’t have a way to meet people, that’s a great thing. I think that you have to be wary and you have to set certain limits on what kind of contact there will be online, but yeah, I would say that anything that gets you out there meeting people in a safe environment is a good thing. Some of the dating sites can be very useful to people if they use them judiciously, just as they were for anything that they’re quote shopping for online, as long as you realize that it creates that Christmas shopping feeling. I’ve had a lot of contact with friends, single women, who when I ask them, what are you looking for, because they have the online experience, they give me a list of categories or criteria. There is no man alive who fits those criteria. Certainly not in their age bracket. It creates unreasonable expectations that can never be fulfilled.

When you meet somebody face to face, no matter how you get together, you get the whole gestalt of the person. How they look, what their skin smells like and feels like, how they make eye contact, are they a good conversationalist, are they a warm person, do they feel like a cold fish when you get together? You can’t get much of that online at all.

Brett McKay: Yeah. As I was reading your book, I get really excited. I was like, this is amazing. I need more of this in my life. At the same time, I was frustrated, because I feel like a lot of particularly American culture isn’t conducing for a village life. We’re transient, people move, families are separated from each other, you have people working from home, they don’t have that face to face contact at work anymore … Are there any practical tips that you can give people on how they can recreate a quote unquote village in their own life, despite the culture that doesn’t help that?

Susan Pinker: I’m so glad that you mentioned about building a village. When I called the book The Village Effect, some people thought I meant like we should all move back to a village. I’m saying no such thing. What I mean is that we need to create a village around us to mimic the kind of effect that those Sardinian centenarians had. Anybody can do that. You’re quite right that in North American culture our lives are, as George Burns quotes, happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city. Many of us don’t want the responsibility of maintaining intimate relationships anymore, and we are transient. How do you build that?

I would say, start with the bricks and mortar stuff of, where do you live? If you’re moving, what kind of place do you choose to live in? I would say, if you have the luxury of choosing a new place, choose a neighborhood where people know and talk to their neighbors. Don’t just look for how big your closets are and how many garages you have for your car. Look for the places in your neighborhood where people connect. Are there sidewalks? Are there what are called third spaces or third places where people get together, like coffee shops or little parks or any kind of area where people congregate? It doesn’t have to be something as formal as a community center, but it has to be an area where people are outside and walking around. If you’re looking for a place to live and you’re driving around and it’s empty, I would say, give it a pass.

Look at your work life. Build real contact into your workday, not just emails. You mentioned that many of us work alone, and as a writer, having a solitary work life I can say for myself is one of the hazards. I had to really craft social contact into my day in a very intentional way. For example, I used to swim laps at the YMCA by myself. Now I swim with a swim team. That way I get the double whammy of the exercise and the social contact with people, and I get it three times a week. I also get a coach, which is much better for my fitness level.

Even at work if you don’t have time to say do something like sports or with colleagues, get up and talk to people at work. Don’t just shoot emails all day. If you work in an office with other people, move around. It’s good for your body to move around and talk to people face to face, and it generates trust, and it’s good for your business. I have a whole chapter in The Village Effect on how it increases your profits. What’s really interesting is that the really higher echelons of business, people do not communicate about big deals over the internet. They get on a plane and talk to each other in person. If there is diplomacy that has to be done, if there’s a huge deal that’s going down, people get on aircraft and talk to each other in person. We have to let that filter down to us at all levels. I think it’s really important to, if you have a solitary work life, build social contact in, in some way, into your work day.

If you have kids, as we talked about, nothing predicts school success and happiness like face to face contact. Commit to family meals without screens, control how much time your kids spend online and ramping up only gradually if they get older. Choose schools where the emphasis isn’t on the high tech toys. We didn’t really talk about education that much, but the evidence is absolutely clear that there’s no digital program yet that is proven as effective as time with a trained teacher. A lot of that is the bells and whistles I think has really bamboozled people, and it’s very concrete, of course. Spend $1,000 on a laptop or tablet and all the accouterments, but really what matters is what’s going on between the teacher and your child.

Here’s something that I think is really important, Brett, in terms of building your village, is make sure you create a village of diverse relationships. That was another thing that was completely new to me when I was researching The Village Effect. It’s not just those close contacts that matter. Not just like your 2 or 3 close people, but the group of different types of people in your social set, who make a difference to you. The integrated social networks. That was what happened in Sardinia. When I’d arrive at a centenarian’s house, the neighbor would be there and the priest would be there and the bartender maybe, and it wasn’t just the person’s daughter or son or next door neighbors. That’s what we have to mimic, is get to know your neighbors, get to know colleagues, get to know the shopkeeper where you buy whatever it is once a week. Talk to people often and develop those diverse contacts, and … Like the tentacles of an octopus, if you know what I mean, as opposed to just looking at the fingers on one hand. You have to reach out in your community and establish those weaker connections, and keep them up.

Something that we didn’t get to talk about is your temperament. Everybody’s different. Not everybody is going to go to a potluck dinner or a buffet and put the same thing on their plate. Social contact is a biological drive, just like your other appetites, like your sex or how much food you eat or the kind of food you eat. You have to adjust the ratio of your face to face contact to your screen contact and your solitary time, just the way you would adjust what you eat according to your appetite. If you’re an introverted person, you might want to have the kind of contact that you feel comfortable with. Not what other people think might be good for you.

Interestingly, we know that introverts are just as … They need social contact as much as anybody else does, they just need to control it differently, and they need their alone time. But if introverts don’t get enough social contact, we know, for example, they catch more colds, paradoxically. They recover less quickly from chronic disease. Everybody needs social contact, but certainly, just like everybody needs food and drink. They just have to determine what it is and how they get it. I would say, adjust the face to face to screen time according to your temperament.

What I’d like to end with is that we’re all online now, but amplify your online contact with real contact. Use your devices to get together with people. There’s so many applications now that help us do that. There’s almost no excuse not to get out there, unless you’re making the mistake of considering … Essentially, your screen time is pretty much the fast food of your social interaction.

Brett McKay: Susan Pinker, this has been just a fascinating conversation. Thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Susan Pinker: Thank you so much for your interest, Brett.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Susan Pinker. She’s the author of the book The Village Effect. You can find that book on amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. You can find out more information about Susan’s work at susanpinker.com.

That wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness at artofmanliness.com, and if you haven’t already, I’d really appreciate it if you’d go to iTunes or Stitcher give us a review to help get the word out about the podcast as well as give us feedback on how we can improve the show. As always, thank you for your continued support, and until next time, this is Brett McKay, telling you to stay manly.

Last updated: October 9, 2017

Continue the Conversation ...

Want to share your thoughts on this article? Send us a tweet or join the discussion on Facebook!