turned-on-macbook-3205403

I, like many other people I know, cannot stand talking on the phone. Something quick to relay information--sure. Too long to text? Acceptable. Feeling chatty? Pass. I’ve been like this for most of my life, but for some reason, this began to change for me over the past year.

Some time around last spring, I realized that I was becoming, not just tired, but irritated by so much of the input and many of the interactions in my life being on a page or a screen. I could blame the past several years of being in school for that, plus editing novels, plus slogging through emails, but the truth was, I realized how much I missed hearing people’s voices. I missed the inflection that text lacks, I missed emotion, I missed being able to tell if someone was being serious or sarcastic without creating a huge, unnecessary misunderstanding, and I really missed feeling like I was talking to other human beings, rather than just one machine with a thousand different ways to say things.

Living by oneself and being a transplant to your location, you pretend that you can get used to your face-to-face interactions being only with coworkers and grocery store employees. And now--especially now--I, and many others, have only part of that and at an even further reduced frequency.

There is nothing good about a deadly and novel virus. Nothing good about it or what it has done directly to people at all. But I’ll freely admit that I’ve had more video chats with friends and family in the past six and a half weeks, than ever in my life before all this social distancing came into play. And why? Why not suffer through phone calls?....A thought still so horrifying to me that I almost couldn’t even type it.

I know I’m not the only one who has been scheduling these video chats as much as possible lately. Over lunch, “happy hours” in the evenings, and some mid-afternoons on the weekends--booking up my calendar to create the social life I never thought I’d have again.

Even video meetings--dare I say it? We are actually looking forward to participating in these? How could we not? I’ve heard stories of bosses turning themselves into potatoes or dressing up as Spider-Man for such moments. I’ve even come across a farm that will let you invite a llama to your staff meeting. How could we not know of these possibilities before COVID-19? Why did we never bother to trek into this uncharted territory before? How, in the name of our questionable sanity, can we possibly go back to boring, uninspiring conference calls with no faces, or even meetings all in the same room together, but without these little elements that bring us humor, at least a smirk (from our crankier coworkers), or even just simple joy for a short while? The answer is this:

We can’t.

We can’t, and I hope we never do. Just as I hope my friends and family and I will continue to facetime each other well after we all have our feet back on solid, healthy ground. Granted, lives become busy and video chats mean multitasking is a little more challenging, but isn’t it worth it? When we cannot meet in person to experience each other's voices, faces--laughter--to take a few minutes just to connect and remember what unites us, why it matters, and to remind us in times like this that we should be as present as we can?

When all is safer and social distancing lifts, I know I’ll be meeting in person with people as much as I can, and technological communication will go back to the sidelines, but for what it’s worth--and I think we’re all finding that it’s worth quite a lot--I’ll endeavor to bring as many simple joys with me wherever I go.

(Just in case you thought I made up the bit about having a farm animal drop in at one of your meetings: https://www.sweetfarm.org/goat-2-meeting)

Heather Hutsell