Human Contact is Not a Luxury Good

The odds may be stacked against us, but we haven’t lost the game.

By NuMundo Storyteller Toby Israel

Touch skin. Anyone’s. Your own. Feel its texture, warmth, aliveness. There is nothing — truly nothing — that compares.

Look someone in the eye. Anyone. Feel the gut-lurch, heart-jump flash of recognition of another soul. It’s not the same through a video camera. It never will be.

Listen to a human voice — anyone’s, your own — that has not been filtered through anything more than the air between you. Feel its resonance in your veins. Tech-mediated sounds come close, but never quite touch us in the same way.

The New York Times recently published an article titled, Human Contact Is Now a Luxury Good. The thesis? With the increasing integration of new technologies in our daily lives — screens omnipresent in workplaces, schools, and the home — choosing to disconnect is a luxury only the rich can afford.

It is a compelling, and disturbing, argument. We see this trend playing out in the field of transformational travel, with eco-lux, earth-centered retreats charging thousands of dollars for a restorative week in nature.

I should know. I design and facilitate some of them.

These experiences are an extraordinary opportunity for personal growth — for those who can afford them.

But what about the rest of us?

I acknowledge that for much of the world’s population, even the contemplation of such an indulgence is out of reach.

Screens have co-opted the status quo. It’s unavoidable… almost.

It is difficult, but not impossible, to rebel against structural forces and choose another way of living and relating. (I understand that the very definition of structural inequality implies a restriction of choices, but we can still offer creative options to break through limitations.) It can be as simple as choosing to go to the park, rather than watching Netflix; it can be as small an act of rebellion as looking people in the eyes, rather than fiddling with a smartphone.

The odds may be stacked against us, but we haven’t lost the game.

We began our lives inside another human being, and no matter how far we stray, we carry that intrinsic inclination toward physical and emotional connection for the rest of our lives. We cannot overwrite all of human history in one generation.

We are wired for human contact. This is still true.

Most of what happens at luxury, destination wellness retreats is not as unattainable as it may seem. Grounding, connecting, and tuning in are not luxury goods; they are inherent elements of human life, available to anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Here are three ways to bring the retreat mindset into your daily life:

1. Ground. Touch something natural. A tree, a rock, a carrot, your own skin. Close your eyes, breathe, notice what you feel in the palms of your hands. Repeat as needed.

Level up: Try a yoga or meditation class, go for a walk in the park, or find a patch of grass where you can lie down for five minutes.

2. Connect. Ask someone who loves you for a hug. Make it a good one — at least as long as three deep breaths. Don’t like hugs? The next time you talk to someone, make eye contact and maintain it for the entire conversation.

Level up: Try a partner dance class, or seek out communities where (consensual, non-sexual) touch is welcome.

3. Tune in. Keep the screens away at mealtimes — even if you only have a 15-minute lunch break. Chew slowly. Taste your food fully. When eating, just eat. When walking, just walk. When talking with loved ones, just talk.

Level up: Is turning off your devices for 12–24 hours an option? If so, try it!

At the hub of the transformational travel movement, NuMundo has a key role to play in the de-commodification of human contact. The network of “impact centers” and experiences offers a unique mix of luxury and grassroots, expensive and free, tech-forward and off-the-grid options.

NuMundo’s 800 impact centers are not just for the wealthy and privileged. With centers in over 100 countries, some of them are probably in your backyard. Many of them offer long-term work-trades that bypass your bank account and compensate you for your labor in food and lodging. Others offer volunteer options that take only a small fee to cover operating costs.

Is there a large portion of the population for whom even these free or low-cost travel experiences are not accessible? Yes, there is. It just may not be as large as you think.

Are the above suggestions for integrating “luxuries” like mindfulness and connection into daily life still out of reach for some? I expect that they are; I don’t profess to be an expert on anyone’s reality but my own.

Nonetheless, I maintain that human contact — like food, shelter, and dignity — is a fundamental right. And even as NuMundo continues to list luxury retreats on our platform, we also support initiatives to make fundamentally human experiences like mindfulness and connection as broadly available as possible.

At NuMundo, we believe in the power of individual transformation to direct global change. Each life touched brings us one step closer to the future we envision.

Dream with us:

Photo Credits: NuMundo NuLiving Experience, Costa Rica 2019