So much about the Covid-19 pandemic is novel. The new reality that we all must face and accept with little time to process. A reality where one of our strongest weapons against this novel virus lies in our ability to fight one of our most fundamental instincts – the human connection.
Handshakes, kisses, hugs, having people over for dinner, meeting colleagues at a pub, visiting your relatives, playing with your nieces/nephews, going to the footy, seeing a gig, putting an arm around a mate. These are just some examples of the acts of human connection that we must now avoid for the foreseeable future.
Weekends for me are mostly spent seeing friends and family. But last weekend was the first weekend in my life where those options were stripped away. My usual Sunday night dinner at my in-laws, going to the football with my mates, doing a trivia afternoon with a bunch of friends. All activities I knew I could no longer enjoy – in person at least.
My life and work revolves in the digital space. I spend most of my days in front of a screen of some size. If I’m not on the computer doing work, I’m on my phone using social media, or my tablet or tv streaming tv shows and movies. This screen time is in many ways a necessity for me, for work, to access news. But I felt I was always on a precarious balancing act, figuring out where the line between necessary and excessive lay in my use of digital technology.
The new reality I faced this past weekend changes things. My screen time no longer represents how many hours I haven’t been socially interacting with friends and family, screen time now forms almost 100% of my social interactions. A strange thought at first.
Saturday night, the Sydney derby. For now, the A-League (rightly or wrongly) continues but without crowds. Myself and 3 season ticket-holder friends would normally be sitting next to each other and making witty remarks, shouting in joy or despair at the sporting events unfolding in front of us.
What we found was we could still do this, for the most part, from our own living rooms.
We used Facebook Messenger’s video chat software and synced our tv’s or tablets to make sure we were watching the game in sync. We made witty remarks, we shouted in joy and in despair, we laughed, we interacted.
Sunday afternoon trivia. My wife sent out a Zoom invitation to over a dozen friends to take part in the weekend paper’s quiz, with one quizmaster in charge of reading out the questions. We had friends who had moved interstate, overseas. A lot of us wouldn’t have turned up to a trivia night on any old Sunday.
It was as though everyone had acknowledged that the ability to socially interact was something we knew we had to maintain if we’re going to get through the rest of this most difficult year. The video call lasted for about an hour. After the call, I felt as though I had just come back from an outing with some friends, a short one, but in that hour we packed in so much interaction and caught up on so much.
Sunday night dinner with the in-laws. This is a Sunday tradition my partner and I have been practicing for some years. Last week we took the difficult decision to isolate ourselves from our families in an effort to shut down any potential for us to transmit COVID-19 to an elderly family member in case we were carrying it unknowingly.
I’m very lucky to have the in-laws that I have, they made enough dinner for us to come and pick up our portions from their front porch, along with a bottle of the same red they were drinking and the same ice-creams they were having for dessert. We took it home, served ourselves, connected with them on skype and ate dinner together as if they were sitting on an extension of our table.
I’m starting the new working week anxious like most of what is to come. But I also started it with the knowledge that even when the most fundamental of human behaviours is no longer possible, the power of technology, and more specifically the power of video calling, the ability to see faces, to chat about anything and just rest in each other’s presence is something not even this pandemic can take away from us.