In recent years, with Netflix binging soaring and more brick-and-mortar stores declaring Chapter 11 or shutting their doors, I’ve often feared a future dystopian existence where people sit alone on their living room couches interacting with stores, jobs, family and friends all through the convenience of the screen. They would never have to leave their homes or touch another human because it would all be available through the magic of the Internet. Social connections through social media. Work through remote-access programs and clouds. Travel through virtual-reality goggles. Intimate relationships through FaceTime and assorted video-chat programs. Even pregnancy could be accomplished without the need for an intimate partner. And all hard goods could be delivered to your doorstep after they were ordered online. Of course, few clothes would be needed since there would be little need to leave the house. At least there would be delivery people, right? Nope. Deliveries would be handled by a self-driving car or a drone. No humanity required.
Now, after five weeks of social distancing and sheltering in place, I am happy to say I think I am wrong.
Someone once said to me, “Be careful what you ask for, you may get it.” Well, we have all gotten a taste of the “delight” of being at home, and it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be (especially for those who have lost their jobs, but that’s not the point I am trying to make).
Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University showed the power of face-to-face communication versus electronic interactions on levels of depression in a 2015 study. Specifically, they found that “having little face-to-face social contact nearly doubles your risk of having depression two years later”…while “having more or fewer phone conversations, or written or e-mail contact, had no effect on depression.” Meanwhile experts across the country are warning of growing rates of depression, anxiety and suicide as a result of the quarantine.
We miss people, and we are realizing that we need to actually live our lives physically, not just virtually. Want proof?
People who are working from home are admitting that even the simplest communication can take far longer when we are at a distance than when we are able to have those face-to-face doorway meetings. Conference calls are a comedy of connection problems…and texts and e-mails don’t have the nuance of in-person interaction. We are developing “cauliflower ear” from the hours and hours of time we are spending talking on our phones.
Video-conferencing services have exploded. Did anyone know what Zoom was two months ago? It has zoomed into the lives of people young and old as we desperately yearn to see faces. I have one team member—generally a pretty quiet guy—who insists on FaceTime discussions just so he can see another person. Voice is not enough.
People have held birthday celebrations, family dinners, Easter brunch and Passover seders with Zoom so that friends and family members across the country can stay connected. One friend had a “surprise” Zoom cocktail party to celebrate his 60th birthday, and another organized a parade of well-wishers to drive by her house with signs and horns wishing her husband a happy 70th. The efforts people are going to—and the creativity to do it—is really impressive.
My teenage neighbor told me that she stays connected with friends through the app Houseparty, which allows anyone who is in the connected group to just come in and “hang out” with others, just like “real” open houses.
And my mother couldn’t say yes fast enough when I invited her to spend hours in the car with me just to go to pick something up from a friend who lives an hour away. This was the first outing she had been on in more than a month, and she was near tears to see my husband, daughter and dog. And we hugged. Yes, we hugged. And it felt great.
It has been extremely heartening to see the number of families out walking and bike-riding. We need to move. We need to get out of our caves. We are not a species of loners. As the old song says, we are “people who need people.”
Sure, Instacart and other food-delivery offerings have been lifesavers for those who are most vulnerable to illness. But it has been a dance of frustration because of the limited availability of the things that we want and then receiving the wrong things. And yes, we all like to pick our own produce. We want to be in control of our lives.
To me, the most powerful sign of our need for people is the growing number of protests showing that people desperately want to return to work and be free from the shackles of social distancing. Economics aside, it is inspirational to see the human drive and deep passion to return to society. To know that when given the option to stay home or get out, we are a country of people who are doers and contributors. Endless pajama days may sound fun, but in reality, we want to dress and work and engage and create. Even the greatest introverts have realized that we are a species that is meant to work together to move ourselves forward. Let’s roll.
Sarah Hiner, president and CEO of Bottom Line Inc., is passionate about giving people the tools and knowledge they need to be in control of their lives in areas such as living a healthier life, the challenges of the health-care system, commonsense financial advice and creating great relationships. She appears often on national radio and hosts the Bottom Line Advocator Podcast, where she interviews leading experts to help people be their own best advocates in all areas of life.