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Hummel Column: Communication is best face-to-face rather than through tecnology

We learn from the Book of Genesis that Jacob saw God face to face. That is a privilege granted to very few, but it has been the very best means of getting acquainted since those early days. But with the advance of technology, it becomes more and more tempting to take short cuts.

Your teenage daughter can meet the sweetest guy on the Internet. As he describes himself, he may be the coolest, the smartest, the most talented, the most athletic and the nicest guy she's never met face to face -- a regular Prince Charming. Then when she tells him how her parents don't understand her, he is totaling sympathetic. Eventually, he arranges for them to meet and she may then realize that he's a bit older than advertised and she may not understand until too late that he's a sexual predator.

You can attach a camera to your computer, connect speakers and talk face to face to somebody on the other side of the world who is similarly equipped. We've seen service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan speak with their spouses and children in America. This is a wonderful use of technology, but I wouldn't trust the system to form a close personal relationship with a total stranger. As Ronald Reagan was fond of saying, "Trust but verify."

I believe in face-to-face diplomacy with our allies as well as our adversaries. George W. Bush once said that he looked into the eyes of Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia at that time, and saw his soul. He may have been mistaken in trusting Putin, but his approach was sound. We can't communicate properly with the leaders or nations of the world by giving interviews and making speeches in Washington, D.C. but never talking directly to them. When peace is negotiated, it rarely happens by letter, phone or e-mail. Peace is negotiated with everybody sitting around the same table. If, for example, our country is to be a factor in bringing about a truce between the Israelis and the Palestinians on the Gaza Strip we have to send somebody there.

When we want to show the poor folks in the third world or developing countries how much we really care, we are more convincing when we send helping hands than when we send money. Our young and idealistic volunteers are our best ambassadors.

The great debates in our history have all taken place face to face -- all debaters facing one another on the same platform: Lincoln and Douglas, Kennedy and Nixon, the Republican candidates of 2008, the Democratic candidates of 2008, Hillary Clinton and Obama and finally McCain and Obama. It doesn't work if one candidate is in Chicago and one is in New York, even with the magic of split screen television. They have to stand there and take it as well as dish it out. It's not exactly dancing cheek to cheek. It's more like sparring nose to nose in close range rhetorical combat -- and it wouldn't work any other way.

We can send Christmas cards, birthday cards and sympathy cards, but none can substitute for a firm handshake or a warm hug. When we care enough to send the very best, we deliver it in person.