A new world of both virtual and in person interaction

Wayne Clark PhD and Woodrow Clark PhD

First let’s admit that virtual communication (zoom culture) will be with us for a long time as an augmented part of social interaction. We have found that the opportunity to participate with and be seen by others without the hassles of travel is all too convenient, safer, and less stressful. So the new normal will include methods of human communication and interaction that will remain with us. We will participate from the home to work, learn, and socialize. We will observe and participate in large social gatherings, such as weddings, funerals, concerts, sporting events, conferences, religious services, and other congregate activities. Participating without travel will continue to be a normal and at times preferred addition to our daily lives.

This will be a new opportunity to be included but will not rule out in person communication.

Being there in person for social interaction is still attractive, but Zoom culture will include those far away, unable to travel, yet wanting to participate with others. There will still be the in person social interaction that benefits from he wink of the eye, the firm handshake, the hug, the in your face confrontation, the wonderful experience of touching and being touched. We are a social animal, these are the familiar and almost instinctual interpersonal experiences. Yet they are are also the awkward face to face, the unease of conversation, the amount of time spent on getting there rather than being there. In our new normal we will have both, the opportunity to be there in person as well as the ability to participate and contribute while distanced from the actual event or activity. Sometimes we will just be observers, sometimes we will be integral participants, other times we will be both a participant and an observer. Today we are looking just at the social behavioral aspects of post pandemic social interaction, at a later time we will discuss the impacts on physical structures, like the number and size of office buildings, size of arenas, number of lanes on highways, etc.

For some of us the reality of a post pandemic world will be difficult, for instance removing the “people shield” that hibernation or sheltering in place required with quarantines, social distancing, travel restrictions, and other expectations of staying safe during a worldwide plague. We will have to revisit our skills to carry on a conversation, show sincere interest in others, appreciate others sense of humor, notice the human quirks and idiosyncrasies that are revealed when we are right in front of someone else. Most of all we will need to re-establish the ability to get out of our shell and relate to our fellow humans. Its not going to be easy and for some down right frightening. Yet as a species, up close and personal is who we are and the benefits of social interaction far out weigh our fears and trepidation.

Each one of us will have challenges whether bursting or gently stepping out of our individual bubble. We will be expanding the number of of people in our bubble. There will be more people to relate to, whether it is again taking walks with friends, colleagues and relatives instead of just walking by people while we are walking our dogs. We will not have time to binge the many shows streaming on our TV, even though many of us have run out of binge worthy shows. Seeing the Queen sitting alone at her husband’s funeral is an example of the stark difference of participating on site versus or as an observer from afar.

I think this new reality will be daunting. Many of us got in touch with our introverted self, just being alone or just left alone wasn’t so bad. Who needs all these people? Maybe we don’t need to get out more nor feel it necessary to have a new outfit every time we go somewhere. We might not jump at the chance to get together with friends, meet new colleagues, gather with family and strangers. While for most we will find it important to get out of our bubble, for others it will be necessary, and for others social interaction will never be quite the same. The pandemic showed us how valuable and satisfying alone time is. While also showing us the many other ways to be with people, at events, and interact. The post pandemic world will reacquaint us with our social self.

After a year of off and on in person contact with new and old friends, we have to get out from under of our blanket of isolation and alienation and become our personal and interactive selves. Can we do it, what is it going to take, what is some advice to getting our game back? For some of us it will be jumping in the deep end of the pool for others it will be to gently put our big toe in the water. The speed in which we get back in the social milieu will depend on our circumstance and opportunity, but also will depend on our personal desire and comfort to reconnect. Indeed we can and indeed we have. Over the past year some of us have taken the opportunity to zoom with old college friends, or to have a zoom cocktail hour with old neighbors, while still others had multi-generational family zooms. Yes we had some contact over the last year that we would not otherwise have had, yet we still had our bubble and limited in person time. We are starting from a new platform of social interaction, we have choices that we can either expand on or narrow.

Let’s turn to some of the lessons learned for face to face in person communicating, for example: listen attentively or as our parents would say “Pay Attention”; genuinely appreciate and care about others. Care enough about the other person to ask questions about them. Recently a server at a restaurant where we picked up food to go, had not been seen in a while. When I saw her, I asked where she had been, she said her father passed away a month ago. I stopped and we talked about losing parents, close friends, and relatives that have left us. I stopped, asked questions and listened, that was the first thing that human interaction is all about, its not going on to the next thing, it is being there with someone while they share their life experiences and not rushing off. For some the communication lessons will need to be relearned, for others they have not missed a beat. Interacting, communicating, listening, empathizing, sympathizing and sitting down to talk is an essential condition for being resilient and thriving in the post pandemic new world.

Post pandemic we are faced with a change in our living and types of human interaction. We will be leaving our bubble companions from the past year and venturing out to seek or just be with more and different people. How are we going to handle this, are we going to fill our lives with just new companions, are we going to retreat back to our old companions or are we going to be bold break loose from our bubble and thrive with all the new and different people that we see and spend time with. The goal for most of us will be to do both, treasure the time with companions in the bubble and seek opportunities to meet and interact with others; and do both in person and virtually.