For those who know me, you’ll agree I’m not much of a “tech guy.” Thankfully, for tech concerns beyond turning on my laptop, getting emails and doing some online research (or keeping up with online friends) we have members of our staff I can turn to for my tech woes. (“How did you say I get a Zoom meeting going again?”)
Still, even I have found myself WAY more online than in the past, and one of our daily staff conversations during this pandemic season is “How do we develop and launch MORE online connections with those we serve?” In the absence of our real world it seems we have all run to a digital one.
Google and Facebook are now places we meet, whether with friends, family or fellow quarantined staff at work. I know we had a “Zoom” Easter with family members, and I’ve had several online meetings that before March I would have been sitting at the same conference table with the person.
To be sure, some genuine digital good has come from the “lockdown.” As talk focuses on reopening the economy and re-engaging in more normal everyday life, I am considering ways to lighten a typically full schedule with virtual meetings that will save me or others the drive time.
Up until “Pandemic 2020” (COVID-19), my connection with distant family and friends has primarily been using my my Apple iPhone in a traditional “phone call sort of way.” Even though I have had Facetime on my phone for years, I’m finally realizing just how nice it is to see people as we talk, it can add to the sense of conversation and connection.
Quarantine has dramatically impacted broadcast media and entertainment, and millions of children are at least temporarily among the homeschool population. Amazon has helped us shop while our favorite stores are closed; and we can still get favorite meals through delivery services and online ordering (e.g. Kroger ClickList).
I could go on and on about how we have literally shifted an overwhelming percentage of our previous lives to some alternative online dimension. Under the circumstances, most of us would admit the shift has been helpful in many ways. However, the question implied in the title of this article is, “Should this online shift STAY this way once pandemic restrictions are lifted?”
Ask yourself, “How much of life should continue to be done online?” As I mentioned, in our office we are discovering ways we can improve what we offer to those we serve. And online can add to simple activities like making a phone call more personal with a face attached!
Beware as we “return to the new normal.” While handshakes may go by the wayside, and what we used to call “personal space” may increase under the guise of more health-conscious social distances, not every pandemic adjustment was “value adding.”
There is still no replacement for in-person connection. I believe we were created as amazingly complex creatures. The coronavirus shows us how wonderfully we are made, and how the fragile balance that is health, must be respected, nurtured, and protected. I believe that I consist of body, soul and spirit…and so do you. One of my mentors in the field of Psychology used to prompt us as graduate students to “be mindful of how people make you ‘feel,’ how do you feel around them, and be mindful of how you must make them ‘feel’ as well.”
Wow, that says a lot! You know it’s true too. Take a moment as you read this and imagine different family members, friends and coworkers in your mind. Your memory probably includes a feeling you have about them. When certain people just walk into the room, you do more than see or hear them, you sense about them.
Let’s not lose the value of presence, “in-person, sharing the same room, able to feel what it is to be with each other,” presence! Call me old school, but in my three graduate programs, I most preferred sitting in a classroom with a wise and intelligent professor. There was something about how it ‘felt’ to learn from them. Admittedly, it was more convenient when I took doctoral classes through ‘distance education’ but nothing replaces ‘being there.’
Let digital dimensions of your relationships enhance your personal, in-person connections, not replace them. Keep the personal, personal. I can’t transmit my deepest feelings over the internet, no matter how ‘virtual’ it is. Let’s cherish in a new way what it is to truly ‘be there’ for each other. The greatest dimension of being there for each other (whenever possible) is literally being with each other, in the same room, at the same time. It is a little less convenient, at times a little more imposing, but it is one of the experiences that I believe truly helps define what it means to be human.
Let’s emerge to a re-opening economy better equipped with ways technology can enhance our connections with each other. But let’s also stay on guard that technology never replaces our connections at the deepest soul-deep levels.