How Technology And The Pandemic Are Bringing People Closer Together, Even As We're Physically Apart
from the silver-linings dept
About a month or so ago on the radio program Fresh Air, host Terry Gross spoke to epidemiologist Michael Osterholm from the University of Minnesota about a variety of topics related to the pandemic. It’s an interesting discussion, and one part stood out: he complained about the term “social distancing” arguing that the phrase “social distancing” was misleading since it suggested not being social with others.
“It’s physical distancing. … Don’t socially distance. If there was ever a time when we all need each other, it’s now,” he says. “We need to start an epidemic of kindness right now to take on this pandemic of this virus.”
And it is kind of incredible, but I’ve noticed how technology has really made this possible. Despite the fact that I’ve seen almost no one besides my immediate family in person for months now, I’ve been able to connect with plenty of friends and family virtually that I probably wouldn’t have spoken to otherwise. I grew up with a close knit group of cousins who were all relatively close in age, but they all still live in and around the NYC region. Normally, I only get to see them if I happen to be in NY, but they all still would get together semi-regularly. But a few weeks back, we organized a virtual get together on Zoom, and were able to catch up as if we were together. Similarly, I’m currently organizing a Zoom call for a bunch of my old housemates from college. I catch up with them every so often (not that often, honestly), but now we’re going to all try to get together on a Zoom call and catch up — something that likely wouldn’t have even happened if we weren’t all stuck at home during the pandemic.
Almost everyone I know has had similar stories. I know people who have had family reunions on Zoom, or reconnected with old work teams. I saw another amazing example recently as well. The science fiction author Eliot Peper — who’s been on our podcast — has talked about how he’s Zooming into book clubs to discuss his new book Veil, and that seems like a really cool thing that authors can do these days that actually allows them to connect to more fans and readers in an easier way than if everyone were going about their lives as normal.
We’re still being social — just at a physically distant, technologically enhanced way. And, no, of course it’s no replacement for the high fidelity of actually being together in person, but it is still a really cool way to connect socially, and the fact that we probably wouldn’t even be doing these gatherings if it weren’t for the pandemic strikes me as quite fascinating. Obviously, everything in the world connected to the pandemic absolutely sucks right now — but imagine how much worse things would be if we didn’t have technology allowing us to socially connect, while remaining physically distant.
Even here at Techdirt, we’re exploring some other new ideas for creating events. Over the years, we’ve done physical events, but they’re a ton of work (and expense) to pull off well, and it’s always been difficult to focus enough resources on doing them consistently. But, now that everyone’s locked down, we’re thinking we may have some more creative ways to start doing fun, creative events virtually as well, and allowing more people to connect, since we’re not so restricted by geography any more (so stay tuned).
There are plenty of things to be concerned about in the state of the world today, but I remain grateful for how technology and what it allows has actually enabled lockdown/quarantine to be less horrific than it otherwise may have been, and a big part of that is our ability to socialize virtually, even if we must remain physically distant.