While we’ve been quarantining, isolating, and digitally working and socializing, The Aspen Institute has been busy. In April they put on a webinar called “Intimacy in Isolation: How Technologies are Impacting Human Connection During the Pandemic,” and in August they had a virtual event called “Virtually Alone: The Future of Human Connection.”
In between, they published comprehensive reports with telling titles: “Lessons in Loneliness” and “Artificial Intimacy.”
Gloria concluded our chat by saying, “Because people are so nuanced, technology cannot be the solution. when you create a technology, you’re making one solution that’s supposed to scale and fit a generalized population, but we’re learning that this is not a generalizable experience.”
Making the Most of What We Have
A 2018 University of Pennsylvania study confirmed that the platforms Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram decreased well-being and increased anxiety and depression. But 2018 feels like another planet compared to 2020, and the social landscape has changed, perhaps irreversibly. Of course opting for face-to-face interaction over virtual friendships isn’t as easy as it was in the land far away known as January 2020, and though many people promise to limit social media time or detox altogether, it’s never been simple to do so—though the premise and pressure to social-media detox is nearly as old as the platforms themselves.
Time moves slow and fast during the pandemic, and Netflix’s new Social Distance captured the bizarreness of our lives almost in real time. Coupled with Social Dilemma, it’s hard to know what to do and how to stay healthy. How bad are online interactions, especially if that’s all we have? Linda K. Kaye, a cyberpsychology academic in the department of psychology at Edge Hill University (UK), has reassuring insight.
Kaye’s research is primarily in the area of the psychology of digital gaming and online behavior, and in particular she’s interested in how online technologies support social inclusion and well-being. Kaye did a study of university students showing the psychosocial implications of WhatsApp.
The study published, ironically, at the beginning of the pandemic, though the research began years prior, and concludes that “online bonding through WhatsApp was negatively related to loneliness, and positively with psychological well-being, self-esteem and social competence.” It turns out that WhatsApp encourages bonding between users and increases social capital and competence and decreases isolation.
Kaye says that my preferred way of connecting during the pandemic—through the voice memo feature on any of the messaging apps—makes sense because it gives the best of both worlds. Using voice to connect on a personal level is akin to a conversation, yet without the parameters of space and time. “We tend to say face-to-face communication is going to be much better than Skype,” Kaye says, “but when you have friends in different time zones it makes some communication better than nothing.”
Together, Apart, and Apart Together
There is no right way to connect with people. It’s more important that we identify what works for us, and find others who want to connect in the same or similar ways. It used to be that friendships would solidify over a shared love of something—live music, working out together, sifting through thrift stores, or adventuring abroad—so while that’s on hold, we need to find new methods to stay connected.
If you haven’t tried voice memos yet, I hope I’ve convinced you to give it a shot. Your friend with three kids might not have time to talk, but she’ll love to hear your voice telling her she’s doing a great job juggling both her work and her kids’ schooling. Your grandma across the country might go to bed early, but sending her a message that she can wake up to and replay over and over will make her day, and I guarantee it will be well worth your 45-second investment.
There are any number of ways to get started with voice memos, but there are few options that never go out of style and usually hit the spot: “Thank you,” “I love you,” and “I miss you” are terrific places to start.
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