I spent this weekend in San Antonio, Texas at the National Communication Association annual meeting. This is the big, national conference for communication teachers and researchers. When I say big, I mean 8,000 people big this year. That's a lot of communication people.
These conferences serve as a place for people to share ideas and present research. It is also a reunion of sorts. Here, once a year, friends from graduate school or from prior jobs converge in one location. I roomed, for example, with two dear friends from my Annenberg days, had lunch with two dear friends from my Minnesota days, had drinks with senior scholars in the field, had dinner with friends and possible collaborators of future research projects. I had chance encounters with old acquaintances and old friends who had grown distant.
In nearly all of those interactions, the one element that seemed to be a constant was touch: hugs, handshakes, hands on shoulders and upper arms or around the back, kisses on cheeks or lips. Greetings in this context seem to require some form of touch. Why?
I think when we see acquaintances and friends whom we rarely get to see, physical touch communicates more effectively and deeply the reality of that connection than can words. We rarely if ever physically touch strangers, and when we do we often apologize (think about walking through a crowded hallway of strangers: bump into somebody's arm as you're passing through and you apologize). We also rarely touch people we see on a daily basis, with exceptions of family members or really close friends. I don't often touch my co-workers, and I certainly don't give them a hug everytime I see them standing by the coffee pot in the office (can you imagine what a reputation one might get for doing so?).
As I think about my interactions with my friends and colleagues at the conference, I often remember the warm embraces, and the feeling such physical connection brings: warmth, connection, love.
That's why I enjoy conferences.