Human interaction is vital to our emotional and even physical health. We interact with sound, sight, and touch. Social distancing means no touching, at least outside the household, but technology has given us the opportunity to add sight to sound. What a difference Zoom, Facetime, Skype, and live streaming can make! Churches are live streaming services in a variety of ways, some of which are interactive, others not. Virtual meetings are being held for business, community groups, governments and social organizations, although it doesn’t work for golf, bridge, or quilting groups. Government bodies are holding meetings via conferencing software. Book clubs can discuss their reading with software help.
Most students from kindergarten through college are now finishing courses online, which has been a logistical challenge (or a learning opportunity?) for teachers, parents and students. Some of that is interactive, seeing each other in real time; others are recorded and watched. It’s a poor substitute for being present with your peers, but it’s a lot better than it would have been 20 years ago because of the communications tools we have acquired.
I was teaching two classes in journaling when the two organizations that had scheduled them shut down, so my students, many of them senior citizens, quickly adapted to online meetings to finish the classes. Informal groups have organized on-line happy hours, just you, your computer, and your friends, face to face. And as for those special friends, Facetime on a smart phone is the easiest of all to use. I had three conversations with close friends via Facetime yesterday, and while a hug would have been nice, we wouldn’t have done that even if we met in person.
Virtual socializing is not the only skill we have learned from this pandemic. We have learned creative ways to shop, even for groceries, to order takeout, to visit the doctor with telemedicine. I had been procrastinating on joining the local on-line farmers’ market, but this was the push I needed. It was an easy way to shop, especially because I could bypass hoarding-induced shortages of meat and fresh vegetables in traditional stores, and it offered a convenient local pickup. A recent NPR story highlighted getting reacquainted with your kitchen as more than a storage place for snacks, dishes, and a microwave. Being at home more and with no hectic schedule for music lessons, dance lessons, sports practices and other child activities, the family dinner may be rediscovered.
Each of us who are healthy and want to contribute to helping others cope with the challenges of the corona pandemic has to find a way to make a difference. I applaud my friend making face masks and the one helping hand out food to elementary school students. I have contributed to the United Way and the local food bank, as have many others. But my particular focus is to help people stay in contact with each other that at least involves both sound and sight. I am actively engaged in two communities, my church and the League of Women Voters. We need to stay connected, but gatherings are out. So I upgraded my Zoom account to include more time and people, taught them how to use it, and set up meetings for small groups (committees, discussion groups, social groups, informational meetings, classes) in both places. I am working on using Zoom for family conversations and neighborhood groups. One on one, my phone conversations always are by Facetime if the other person has a smart phone, which most do, and I am making more phone calls instead of using email or texting.
Virtual visiting is my personal contribution. May you be well, and may the crisis be short, and may you find a way to be part of the glue that holds our society together as we weather this crisis. And may we all emerge from this crisis more conscious of the need (and tools!) for regular human interaction with sight and sound, and looking forward to eventually again, resuming touch.