Getting Closer in The Age of Social Distancing
The coronavirus is achieving what a decade of social media innovations failed at- bringing us closer together through technology.
By: Joel Kaplan
I hope you’re well. I hope that hand-washing and face-not-touching and hoarding of toilet paper has kept you safe. I hope that multiple Zoom windows don’t haunt your dreams. That a simple disagreement between you and your midtown roommate hasn’t festered into a rancid and incurable divide. And I hope you forgive me for finding a silver lining to this pandemic.
Because in the middle of this, after the fear phase, where you cleaned the gun you’ve never told friends you own, and after the strangely relaxing phase, where you watched two days of streaming videos and felt like you were snowed-in on vacation, and after the anger phase, which is where you are right now because you no longer have a job, or are about to lose your job, or are worried that your entire industry is disposable, comes an email from someone who you haven’t talked to in 20 years.
This is the reintroduction of a generation. This is the late night Facebook message that goes beyond a thumbs-up emoji and dives into paragraphs of updates. Photos, cleaned out of save boxes, shared not as a #TBT but personally, with a note. This is catching a livestream an old friend puts on from his kitchen because his weekly bar gig is canceled. And you have never seen him perform. And he notices you are watching and calls you out in the middle of a song even though you haven’t talked since the Cubs won the World series. And you’re not the only one there. The stream is filled with names you know. Names you haven’t seen since you left your small town, and broke up with your small-town life, and didn’t look back. And suddenly you are looking back and it’s colorful and bright and, and, and, older. Are you that old? And they remember you. Which you weren’t sure they would. Which feels nice, and permanent, and warm.
This is your wife, who let’s be clear is the best parent you could ever imagine, who is a drastically better parent than you, who is the Beatles of parenting that inspires your occasional Oasis-like fatherhood moments, this is her looking at you and saying, “I feel like I never play with them. I parent them, but I am not sure if I play. I should play more.” This is her, being taken hand in hand by your 8-year-old daughters and draped in sheets to recreate a wedding dress. Which then leads to her creating their wedding dresses in return. With sheets and robes and belts and capes. This takes hours. This is the rambling, juice-fueled, organic play usually reserved for long summer days. This is dog days stuff, only it’s the end of March.
This is your parents. They live in Arizona, or New Mexico, or Florida. They try so hard to be a part of things but, you know, it’s hard. And let’s be honest, you don’t always make it easy. Because you commute, and you try to make it home in time to cook dinner, and no matter how much energy you had around three it all seems to be depleted and dispersed by seven.
But now all that is different. Without the commute you are cooking more. And everyone is sitting around the table eating together. Sometimes you FaceTime with your parents during meals, which you thought would be hard but has settled into a nice communal thing. And then comes a great idea. An experiment. Your mother offers to host a FaceTime reading class with your kids every day. EVERY DAY. So now, from eleven to noon, your mother, the grandmother of your kids, who has likely felt sidelined over the years because you live so far away and don’t visit enough, now she spends her time teaching her twin granddaughters. They read and go over worksheets. They talk. Nonstop. For an hour. Every day. And this is like an Apple commercial. This is a stock video. This is a Hallmark special. This works. Holy Lord this works.
Which makes you look around at more things that are working.
- The Google Hangout fashion show put on by a 7-year-old neighbor.
- A pub trivia Zoom meetup which turns out to be better than an actual pub.
- Your father’s 75th birthday party hosted online, attended by friends and family from Buffalo, Albuquerque, San Diego, Cleveland, Champaign, Phoenix. More people and more places than ever would have been possible if we were meeting in real life.
- People are calling one another again. Not texting. Calling.
- Politeness. Humanity. Patience. Unity.
This will flatten out!
It may not be crisp. I’m not talking about a clean line at any time soon. But we will get there. Society will get there. True, we will be different, changed, radically and forcefully evolved, but we will continue to be us at our core. And knowing that, that somewhere down the road is a well-marked and extremely wide exit, makes it all more bearable.
Which brings me back to my initial plea. Please forgive me for thinking all this.
I know this virus is terrible. I know that when my nephew’s due date hits next week, my brother and sister-in-law, who live in Brooklyn, will have to walk to a local hospital that has been described as a war zone. I know they may be forced to say goodbye at the hospital entrance because, as of right now, only patients can enter. I know inside that hospital, much closer than all of us would like, lie people at drastically different ends of life’s spectrum, both struggling for the same thing, breath. I know some of them won’t win.
But to keep our heads above this. To push the drowning fear just over the horizon. I ask all of you to look at the empty space that sits within six feet of your body in all directions and figure out what you can fill it with. Hope. Joy. Love. Or even just the realization that the separation, in the end, may give us a clear and present way to reconnect, to become more human than we have been in years.