Yoohyun Park/Production Coordinator
The social awkwardness many have gained over the pandemic is affecting our conversations in person
By: Ardena Bašić, Contributor
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in more ways than we could have ever imagined, one of the most potent impacts have been on our social lives. While the most obvious changes have been with regards to the way we interact with those around us regularly, either by a physical or virtual distance, our more casual, everyday interactions have also been significantly affected.
Before the world was forced to respond to a global health crisis, it was seemingly easy to start general, unprompted conversation. Walking through a library, hallway or even classroom meant endless opportunities for communication. However, as we changed to a virtual platform of school and work operations, this was almost impossible. One would have to deliberately present themselves online in a way that would advance the proposition of small talk. In other words, turning on one’s camera and microphone on zoom, despite how uninviting it may be for some. Being deprived of such interactions for a prolonged period means that we do so now with less confidence and find it increasingly unnatural.
This notion likely sounds all too familiar to students who are slowly acclimating to being on campus again. Seeing classmates and friends around campus and town was exciting at first, but the social engagement was ultimately quite draining considering the lack of such meetings for the past year and a half. Furthermore, initiating casual interactions with strangers around campus is much less enticing. As appealing as it may sound to say “hi” or find solidarity in the endless amount of schoolwork university seems to entail, it is daunting after a long period without such practice.
The other negative implication of this lies in the idea of mentorship. Having an upper year student, regardless of whether they are in your program or not, is invaluable in terms of guidance and advice. Knowing what a professor may prefer for assignments, what study methods to use for a particular class or what lectures to never miss is especially helpful for first- and second-year students, many of whom are still adjusting to the expectations of university. Through our newfound discomfort in casual interactions, we are missing out on the opportunity to build these relationships while out on campus. Whilst virtual mentorship programs are providing one solution, the solidarity that arises from meeting someone in public who you can relate to is unobtainable through online platforms.
Lastly, after being at home for so long, many of us are excited about the opportunity to make new friends on campus. Yet, given our trepidation to approach new faces, this is made even more difficult. As a result, we are still relying on social media and virtual platforms to interact with one another, increasingly diminishing our tangible sense of friendship. As eager as we are to return to a semblance of normality, the habits and routines we have developed over the past year must be conquered — or at the very least revised — first.
COVID-19 has given us yet another obstacle that we must overcome in order to live regular lives once again. There is so much benefit in being able to spontaneously interact with those around us. A slow, gradual approach to such encounters will likely be most comfortable for some, but don’t forget that we are all experiencing this same effect to some extent. As a society, we can find solidarity in the fact that we are going through this ordeal now, just like we will find solidarity in experiencing a re-introduction to a more social society together in the future.