My parents sometimes say I’m a glutton for punishment when it comes to social media and digital interaction.
They may be right considering much of the internet is filled with faceless, anonymous people shouting into the void – usually to the detriment and annoyance of me and those around them.
But right here, right now? I think it’s a rare period in time when the connection provided by social media and the advancement of technology can provide a sense of normalcy and even healing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The necessity of physical social distancing – staying at least 6 feet away from people who do not live in the same household – doesn’t mean we need to distance ourselves in every way. On the contrary, we need to keep our friends closer than ever through any means available.
I’ve made many of my best friends through online connections over the last few years. People hundreds of miles apart have become connected by Astros baseball – or a lack thereof – and the Randy Rogers Band. And they’ve been key in keeping me sane during this unprecedented time for our area.
We need human connection. Whether it’s gossip over the proverbial office water cooler or throwing back a few drinks at our favorite local watering hole, such conversation does wonders for escaping the monotony our day-to-day lives too often become – if only for a few minutes or hours. For decades, friends and co-workers have served as sounding boards for stress in our lives while aiding in our healing processes.
Those interactions are as much the spice of life as anything. So what can we do when they become largely unavailable to us, as they have with social distancing requirements that require the closure of all bars, clubs and dining rooms?
The quarantines have not actually changed my typical routine much. Monday through Friday, I make the round trip to and from the Star’s office. Rarely do I go out anywhere armed with anything but a story lead or news tip. But I’m aware that the same cannot be said for many of my closest friends, who are teachers, bartenders and others not considered “essential.”
I also know a few nurses who are on the front lines around the state who must take extra precautions once they leave work – if they ever do.
At an early age, I had a succinct phrase drilled into my brain. It was three little words – “People need people” – and I don’t even remember who first uttered it to me. But its meaning comes into much clearer focus when we encounter situations like the COVID-19 crisis impacting Fort Bend County.
Some alone time often does wonders for the soul, allowing us to recharge our own batteries much like power cords charge the phones always glued to our hands. But how much “me time” is too much?
One of my best friends lives in California, working as a bartender. She has been quarantined for the better part of several weeks, and has just about gone mad. My older sister and several friends are teachers around Texas who miss seeing their children’s faces each day. They just want normal life back.
And that’s where social media and new technology can – at least temporarily – actually make things more bearable instead of being the reason they become unbearable.
My teacher friends have begun using Zoom, an online conference call and video chat that allows them to speak face-to-face with their students, conduct online lessons or just catch up on what they’ve been doing with their impromptu vacation. I’ve seen evidence of the same from educators in both Fort Bend ISD and Stafford MSD. So, too, have many folks on the self-proclaimed Astros Twitter that I’ve become involved with online who live in Sugar Land, Richmond and other areas of Fort Bend County and the Houston region.
For 45 minutes or an hour, we don’t have to talk about the coronavirus or temporary joblessness that pervades nearly every conversation. We’re just people, talking about our kids or this cool new online game we’ve discovered. We’re music junkies debating the merits of different genres, or friends talking through shared struggles.
It may seem inconsequential from the outside looking in. But I think these types of connections are more important than ever right now – if for no other reason than keeping our sanity. Even from taking part in just one of the Zoom sessions, I could almost see the weight lifted off the shoulders of several people, just from a short conversation with someone they previously knew solely by their Twitter handle. I felt the same way.
Bottom line: Relationships and interactions with those around us are necessary components of making our way through this topsy-turvy world and its curveballs. And for the time being, I think social media and advanced technology can serve as a boon to that purpose rather than a detriment.
We may not be able to meet our friends in person for another several weeks. But those friendships remain a vital component in making it through life. So just this once, I’d encourage everyone to take a headlong dive into the technological and social media era we’re living in.
Let’s keep our friends closer than ever.