Because of COVID-19, all our usual habits are being disrupted—including our social habits. That means that we must recreate or even re-imagine the ways that we usually connect now that we’re not going into work, going out for drinks, going to a book club, dropping off kids at school, going to religious services, or playing sports.
For instance, I love going for a walk in the park with a friend, but these days, I’m walking alone and staying very far from other people. To replace this activity, I’m setting up phone dates with friends so I can still talk and walk.
This activity means I get time with a friend, exercise, sunshine, fresh air, and a change of scenery—all very important when we’re spending so much time cooped up.
Technology has many limitations and pitfalls, but this is an area where it can really help us. Embrace the tools that can help us all stay connected.
Here are some tips and observations about using technology to stay connected during physical distancing:
When we can’t see people in real life, we can try to see the image of their faces. FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Zoom, or Houseparty can all help us stay connected.
Because we all get such a lift from engagement, Elizabeth and I have started daily Instagram Live conversations. Monday through Friday, at 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT, Elizabeth and I lead a conversation on Instagram about whatever is on people’s minds. We wanted to give readers and listeners of the Happier podcast—and ourselves—a place to have practical, hopeful conversation with hacks, challenges, and ideas. It’s just fun and comforting to have a place to tune in and engage with other people.
I heard about a group of friends who celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by dressing up in green and having a drink together, by video.
A few nights ago, my husband Jamie set up a Zoom conversation with two friends, and last night, Jamie and I had a “double date” with friends using his iPad.
I’m going to see if my various book groups could meet by video. This is a great time to talk about books.
My older daughter has started sending voice memos to friends. She finds that it creates more connection than just writing a text.
Consider creating group text chains. These can be great, because there’s a lot of conversation, humor, and information flowing. You can ignore it when you want, or when you want to jump in, you can—and when you do, there will probably be someone to respond to you. It’s comforting to know that you’re in a group and can always get someone’s attention.
These days, children’s social time is often screen time
We’re all used to trying to minimize our children’s use of screens—but right now, screens may be providing crucial interactions with friends and family.
One child might have a Facetime playdate to play Minecraft with a friend.
Another child may be connecting through Snapchat.
Another may be part of a supportive group text.
We may see our children “using screens,” but this may be crucial social time.
Offer help to people who don’t naturally use these tools
Some people are eagerly adopting tools that can be used to maintain engagement. Others need to be taught how to use them, or nudged into seeing their value. If you naturally feel the impulse to connect with others, look around for people who need more support. For instance, my sister Elizabeth and I showed our parents how to watch us each day on Instagram Live.
For most of us, the routines of everyday life provide plenty of social engagement—even when we don’t necessarily want it! But now we must actively create that engagement.
Frequency is more important than duration
A while back, when I was talking to my father about whether it was worth the hassle for my family to make a very short trip home to Kansas City, he observed, “With visits, frequency is more important than duration.”
I was immediately struck by the truth of that statement, and it’s true for the kinds of interactions we’re having these days. With moments of connection, it’s more helpful to have quick, frequent check-ins than less frequent, longer check-ins. I call my parents every day for a short time; I don’t call them once a week for a long catch-up. (If you want to hear me talk about this aphorism, listen here.) Along those lines…
It’s okay to be boring
“It’s okay to be boring” is the motto of my family’s “update” practice. (You can hear me talk about “update” here.) We may not have much to report to each other. Right now, probably, no news is good news. But social connection is valuable even if there’s not much to say.
One thing we’re all missing is companionship—just the quiet presence of other people. My daughter Eliza uses Zoom to create this atmosphere with some of her college friends. They all do their work silently (they put themselves on mute so they don’t hear the sounds of each other typing, etc.) but they can see each other, so they feel together, and they un-mute themselves if they have something to say. In this way, they’re recreating the feeling of working at a library with your friends around you.
Be a “little ray of sunshine”
Sometimes these days it seems that the only news is bad news. In my family, we’ll often say, “Look who’s being a little ray of sunshine!” when someone does something that’s clearly meant to boost people’s moods. Now’s the time to be that little ray of sunshine.
- Sending funny photos or videos of your dog, your kids, or your pantry
- I love to use the Timehop app to send flashback emails to my extended family: “Look what we were doing five years ago today!”
- Send fun items—postcards, letters, care packages—in the mail. I don’t care how old you are, it’s always fun to get something pleasant in the mail. And making loving gestures for others will lift our spirits, too.
Different generations use different tools. Facebook, Snapchat, email, text…different people use different tools. We may need to adapt to each other’s preferences, as part of our efforts to stay in touch.
Many people have commented to me that right now, they feel very close to the people in their lives. Jamie said, “I’m spending so much time on the phone, talking to people. It has actually been nice to be in so much contact.”
These are tough times, and they’re going to get tougher.
We may be six feet apart, but we can still reach out with love.