That doesn’t mean the transition will be easy. “It’s going to be heartbreaking. Many cultures have really beautiful ways of connecting that don’t involve touch,” says Hughes. “But to replace something as iconic as a hug or as a cheek kiss, I think is going to require a new choreography.”
As for alternative greetings, Hughes, who comes from the American south, reckons we already have a ready-made replacement for a greeting: the wave and head nod that she encounters when she drives down the long country roads to her parents’ house makes her feel welcome. “Maybe you take it out of the car,” she says.
For those worrying about the lack of physical contact depriving us of something innately human, Dunbar has some words of hope. “Touch is not the only mechanism used for physical bonding,” he says. Evolution from our primate progenitors has given us new ways to feel a connection with others that also trigger endorphins. “They’re things like laughter, singing, dancing, telling stories, religious rituals and so on,” he says – “the things we use in our everyday social interactions.”
So, while we may remain wary about physical contact for some time yet, staying physically distant doesn’t have to mean we can’t feel close.
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