Chris Andrews is walking through Southwest Virginia on his way west in a 3,200-mile cross-country trek to promote a national conversation about returning to more face-to- face communication. “One goal of this journey is to interact with as many people as I can to symbolize the importance of face-to-face interaction,” he explains. And he’s talked to all sorts of people from all walks of life since he began what he calls an “incredible” journey. “The level of generosity alone has been pretty surprising to me,” he says. He left Aug. 8 from Fairview Beach, which rests along the Potomac River, pushing his three-wheel cart along Route 11 past Radford, Pulaski and Wytheville on his way across the United States. After completing 350 miles and his first state with Virginia, he’s now entering Tennessee. The idea to take the walk began almost two years ago for the 22-year- old while he was a student at the University of St. Andrews in St. Andrews, Scotland. “Here was this small university community dominated by digital communication. Technology is not bad, but I observed that people were losing touch with the people around them because they were so consumed by digital communication.” He noticed his own addiction to his mobile phone and waking up in the morning to endless scrolling through phones or other devices.
“My biggest concern is the inability to balance technology with the need for face-to-face communication. We need to look at the power of face-to- face communication as a skill and something that makes us more empathetic and patient, something that brings communities together and makes us all better at whatever job we do.”
Andrews says many of the people he’s met on his journey have their own perspective on the purpose of his walk. “When I started this journey I had my own ideas about the inability to balance face-to-face communication, but others have offered new perspectives of what this is all about.” He’s been documenting those perspectives at his website, www.letstalkusa.com, which can be followed to keep tabs on a trip that will eventually take him into warmer states like Texas and New Mexico for the winter before eventually concluding in Los Angeles next spring.
One man he met on his trek west told him, “You know, technology has its time and place, but I’m old school. I’m not afraid to write a letter.”
A woman told Andrews, “It’s almost handicapping people. There is something about communicating with others, the energy that we pass between us that is lost when texting and sending emails. I never know how they are saying what they are saying.” Another man said, “We were made for presence, made to be in relationships with people, and we were made to be known, as scary as that may seem.” Yet another man Andrews met expressed his concerns about what digital communication was doing to our youth: “I heard the other day that the average American looks at their phone over 200 times per day, and research is finding that when parents are doing that, there are serious consequences for infants who rely on that face-to-face interaction at an early age to bond.”
Andrews is also co cerned about how the concentration on digital communication is influencing children. “Our current younger generation grew up with digital communication. What happens to children when digital interaction replaces face-to-face interactions?” Andrews asks. He’s hoping his walk will encourage communities to start reflecting on questions like these as we seek to build stronger communications and communities.
Andrews estimates that 80 percent of his nights on the trek are spent camping in someone’s yard after walking up to their door and asking permission. “When I knock on someone’s door, that’s breaking ice in a time when that’s extremely uncommon, but it helps them to realize it’s not that scary. A lot of this message comes down to addressing your fears.” Sometimes he’s invited to stay in their house after he explains his mission and message. “What keeps surprising me is the power of circumstance and coincidence,” Andrews says of his encounters so far. His trip is funded by donations, and sponsors have supplied his energy bars, water filtration system, medical equipment and clothes.