How has lockdown impacted your personal friendships and relationships? It is probably true to say that we are all past the first stage of the pandemic, where confinement was a bit of a novelty, and we were taking crash courses in video conferencing. There was a resolve to show our better side; we advised how to connect with vulnerable neighbours, volunteered for local hubs, and exchanged tips on how to stay entertained while forced to remain indoors.
I’d like to put something in quite stark terms. It is three months since we have been permitted personal, non-distanced connection with anyone living outside our own household. If you remember those days before COVID-19, and imagine that a friend had told you that they hadn’t seen another person in 90 days, but they had still spoken to people on the telephone and through video calls, I put it to you that you would not regard that behaviour as healthy. You would be quite correctly worried for their wellbeing.
We obviously must deal with the practical reality in front of us. It was necessary for a time to ensure we did not put our health services under such strain that there would be a disproportionate number of excess deaths. Being separate for a time was entirely wise, even though it was and remains painful.
There is a definite change in tone in social media however. Grace, patience, and forbearance have largely vanished. Attempts at positivity are more of the ‘through gritted teeth’ variety than borne from genuine joy.
There’s a good reason for this. We miss each other.
The idea that we behave differently on social media is not a new one. There are the reminders not to compare your life to the #bestlife others are putting forward. We are quite rightly reminded to think if the words we are typing are words we would actually say to someone’s face, before we hit the Enter key. We are encouraged not to spend too long on the time sink of social media, and miss quality time with others.
The fact is, we are missing quality time with others. Our much referenced ‘new normal’ is for social media style relationships to replace actual human connection. While digital is certainly okay for ‘it will do’ connection, it is no replacement to looking someone in the eye. It cannot replace steering conversations according to the mood, picking up all of the subtle cues video cannot deliver. And even for folks like me who detest being tactile, physical contact outside of immediate household is an important part of being connected to others.
It’s no wonder then that social media is angry, polarised, and dare I even say shallow. It has torn away depth in human relationships, shredded empathy, and undermined the bond of our common humanity that comes when we are in close physical contact with each other. The longer we remain socially distanced, the less we feel like we belong to each other.
If this were one of these positive lifestyle blogs, what would follow would be ‘5 great tips to build deep connection in lockdown!’ That would be however to buy into exactly the kind of glib shallowness that has got us into this mess in the first place. There is no substitute for human connection, and we are naïve if we think we’ll all be fine if we just stay cheerful and catch up occasionally on our video call app of choice.
Much of the talk about the pandemic has centred around whether it is too risky to undertake this action or that, assuming that the risk of COVID-19 is the only risk in town. I am firmly persuaded that enforced and long-lasting separation from others is so dehumanising, that it must be considered as a risk that must be taken into account. There may well be a day when we must concede that the cost of distancing is higher than the cost of not distancing.