Wow, what a month. I went from looking forward to watching the NCAA basketball tournament to a completely different kind of March Madness. Like you, I’m struggling to cope with the “new normal” and finding ways to stay connected to coworkers, friends, and family … and not go crazy at home with my wife and 3-year-old son.
We no longer have an opportunity for casual conversations at the water cooler, lunch with friends, or happy hour after work. These seemingly trivial interactions are essential to staying happy and healthy and promote creativity and innovation. This isolation (physical distancing) can also lead to loneliness (emotional distancing), making us unhappy, unhealthy, and less productive.
The Social Gap
With the advancement in (and dependence on) technology, we have unintentionally created a figurative gap between us and the people in our lives and a literal gap as more companies move to a distributed workforce. The sheer fact we have “friends online” and call Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram “social networking” is paradoxical. It’s not social networking, it’s antisocial networking.
It saddens me to see a group of friends sitting together, on their phones, interacting with virtual friends instead of the people right in front of them. Put down your phone and “like” each other! The thing that really scares me is I think I’m one of them.
I’m not saying technology and social networking platforms are all bad. They provide an amazing way to stay connected with people we wouldn’t otherwise be able to see because of physical proximity, but there sure are some negative side effects.
With the current pandemic and required physical distancing, there has never been a greater need for social connection. The irony is the same technology disconnecting us from reality might be the solution to reconnecting us during this crisis.
Technology to the Rescue?
In the last two weeks, I attended two virtual birthday parties, my wife hosted her monthly bookclub online, and numerous friends had virtual happy hours “at” work. We humans have a fundamental need for social interaction and the ingenuity to make it happen.
There are some flaws to video conference tools: you can’t all talk at the same time, someone is bound to be talking while on mute, the person with the dog and crying baby doesn’t know how to use the mute button, some people aren’t paying attention because they’re trying to figure out how to change the virtual background, and an unknown person keeps popping in and out because he has a bad internet connection. With a little structure and practice (we’re all going to be Zoom experts in about 2 weeks), we’ll learn to overcome these flaws or at the very least tolerate them.
Bridging the Gap
Growing up, my sister and I played games, lots of games, with my parents. Social connection for us was (and still is) playing cards or Pictionary or Trivial Pursuit or ping pong or a dozen other silly things. My mom just says, “I bet I can beat you at …” and it’s game on. It’s such a fundamental part of who I am, I dedicated my professional life to sharing my passion for social games with others. I hope to see us, as a society, combine the best part of modern technology with the best part of classic games to create the social bonds we so desperately need.