If there is one adage I can relate to over the course of COVID-19, it’s “You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.” One of countless things I admittedly took for granted pre-pandemic is the immeasurable value of in-person connections — and how very different these experiences are live than online.
As parents in the Boston area, we all began the journey of an exclusively online life back in March, unsure of how long we would be a passenger on this virtual ride. WiFi and iPad became four-letter words for survival, a double-edged sword allowing some of us to juggle working from home while trying to entertain young children.
This, of course, came at the cost of what I term “screen-time guilt.” I would shamefully flash back to lectures from the experts on how many hours of screen time was acceptable for children and then berate myself at the end of each day.
While the online world was always a segment of my parental life pre-pandemic, it was never one hundred percent of it. School, play dates, sports, and birthday parties quickly became synonymous with Zoom. Those theater and ballet classes moved to a hastily cleared space on the living room floor.
In some ways, it felt like we were saving so much time. Meetings that could have been an email actually became an email. Events that I usually couldn’t attend because of scheduling were more accessible. On the more delirious quarantine days it was just plain comical that I was attending church services in my pajamas. During what has been a sad, scary, and stressful time in history, these online escapes helped us to stay somewhat sane, and I felt grateful to be safe at home and fortunate to have the technology to make it all possible.
So why did all this virtual time seem so…. unfulfilling?
My kids and I were technically doing all the same activities, just not physically with other people. My trainer and workout friends could technically SEE each other and communicate during boot camp classes. My kids could listen to their teachers, read stories, and play games with their friends while they giggled along on FaceTime.
Even though the activities may be the same, I came to recognize how differently they made me FEEL. I like to workout alongside other people and enjoy the quick-witted banter between exercises at the gym. Even when a meeting seems like it could have been an email, a great idea can arise just from the chatter while you are packing up to leave. Coffee with a friend on FaceTime just doesn’t replace sitting beside them and getting a gauge of how they are REALLY doing.
In-person connections make me feel full, and while the virtual ones were better than none, they many times left me feeling half empty.
After a few months it started to feel like a virtual burnout… between school, work, and socializing, my head was spinning from Zoom fatigue.
There have been countless studies on personal connection, but one podcast I have found most interesting speaks to the value of human connection and its relationship to happiness: “The Happiness Lab” with Dr. Laurie Santos, an expert on human cognition and a professor of psychology at Yale University. The podcast delves into the idea that as humans, our levels of happiness really are driven by our need for personal connection — which many of us became keenly aware of during our months in quarantine.
I have come to realize that the fact that an experience can’t be fully replicated online is actually a very good thing.
It proves how much real human connection is needed and will continue to be an essential part of life, no matter what technology doubles we develop.
It’s reassuring how much I miss clinking a friend’s glass and chatting with parents on the rainy sidelines of a soccer field. Someday, I hope to stand shoulder to shoulder with you at the Garden or sing my heart out to Sweet Caroline with you at Fenway. But until then, let’s promise to never forget the time when we would have given anything to see a friend in person rather than in a box on a screen.