April 18, 2020

5 Quarantine Tips for Happier, more Human, Online Interactions.

Relephant read: Elephant’s Continually updating Coronavirus Diary. ~ Waylon


I love you, but I’m sick of your Zoom face.

To soothe the bite of isolation, we look to FaceTime, Zoom, and other online platforms to help us feel less alone. Is it filling the need—or is gathering online just annoying?

Trying to recreate the togetherness I crave, I dial up friends for FaceTime chats and host livestreaming Zoom yoga classes and happy hours. I just want to feel like a person with a life again.

I find I’m not feeling less lonely. In fact, unsatisfying interactions have left me feeling drained and missing social interaction even more. Conversations lack natural flow and that twinkle in the eye. They feel effortful and exhausting.

Online tools are no replacement for in-person chats. FaceTime has good sound quality and works pretty well for up to four people. Business applications like Zoom (or GoToMeeting, Skype, Microsoft Teams, and LifeSize) work for the purpose they were designed for—structured meetings. They fail miserably for simply hanging out because, even though a lot of people can join, they can only talk one-at-a-time. As the louder, more extroverted folks vie for the talking spot, sessions get chaotic, and some people feel excluded.

In real life, people are automatically entertaining. We can’t help it! As we lean in over a coffee, we catch the energy of the moment and flow from there. We go from sadness to humor to anger in a blink—it’s all easy.

Social engagement wasn’t always a big part of my life—I struggled with social anxiety. When I started working from home 10 years ago, I became even more lonely and cut off from the world. So I made a real effort to make more friends. The plan was difficult, but simple: be authentic and always say “yes.”

Within three years, I was rolling in friends. I felt better about life and better about myself. I was hooked.

Now, locked in my house, I fear I’ll return to my isolated ways. Which friendships will go the distance, and which will wither? I’m committed to doing my part to keep the love alive, even if Zoom makes me look and sound like a nasally alien.

What would make me happy in an online interaction?

>> I want the pleasure of hearing your actual voice. Sorry, but your harsh electronic voice is going to sound just off enough to make my brain slightly uncomfortable.

>> I want eye contact, so I can see into your soul. Sorry, you look like you’re scrutinizing yourself in the mirror and are slightly bored with me.

>> I want to see your body language. Sorry, what body? Seriously, what is that you’re wearing?

>> I want to relax and enjoy organic shifts in conversation. Sorry, back-and-forth will be labored and tiring.

>> I want to interject witty remarks. Sorry, you’ve been muted.

Yep, sorry, nope, Zoom—no can do. It was built for business, not back porches.

Communication is subtle and these tools can’t give us the full picture—the voice, breath, face, and body presence unique to each person. The vibe that’s so easy to tune into in-person, is elusive online.

Nonverbal cues are more important than the actual words being said. If I can’t catch that you’re biting the inside of your lip, or notice your tense body position, or sense that you’re holding your breath, how can I know what you’re truly trying to tell me?

Then there are the actual vibrations of your voice. I’m an aural person. The specific qualities of a person’s voice stick with me forever. If I know you from, say 25 years ago, and I hear a commercial with your voice-over—I know it’s you, instantly. Voices are everything.

How I miss the pure vibrations of my loved ones’ unaltered voices. Electronic communications miss the nuances of vocal tone, timbre, and inflection. They don’t pick up on the breath that drives the natural rhythms of our speech.

Voices are flatter, emotions and meaning more blurred.

When you were a kid, did you ever have conversations under water—either by actually trying to make sound waves or by using hand motions? It took a lot of effort and little got understood. This is a little like that.

Chatting is hesitant and stilted. You know that annoying thing we do where we just wait for the other person to finish so we can say our important words? This feels worse online.

All these limitations and Zoom faces aside, I’m still going to be connecting with friends online during the quarantine. I’m just going to manage my expectations, and try taking a little more relaxed approach.

Here are five tips to feel like a human while hanging out online:

1. Get casual. Turn on the phone or computer while you cook dinner, study, or watch a movie. This is a little like the pleasure of hanging out. No talking required.

2. Embrace the silence. Do silences seem like a waste of time? Then stop being so goal oriented. Relax. Try just appreciating the face you see.

3. Share your environment. Train the camera on the dinner you’re cooking, your dog’s belly, the rain on your porch, the book you’re reading, the cabinet you’re painting, or your first tomato of the season.

4. Ask questions. Don’t always trust your perceptions of what you think you’re hearing and seeing—the electronic translation can leave you with big gaps in information.

5. Remember it’s about the love you give. It’s not about getting the attention you want. It’s about listening, showing you care, and enjoying the other person. So, you know, maybe don’t talk the whole time.

I want to hang out with no pressure to talk, entertain, perform. Heck, I just want to see the faces I love.

Your Zoom face doesn’t completely satisfy me, and I’m just going to have to get over it. But, if you’re getting really close to the screen, people can see up your nose. Stop this now.

I know I’m not alone in feeling alone. Our awkward efforts at communication emphasize just how much we need each other. We operate in packs.

Right now, I’m visualizing us all falling into a reassuring pile, keeping each other warm, and taking a nice long nap.

Embodied creatures need embodied communication—touch, hugs, nuzzles, nips. There is no replacement. So for now, we’ll just do what we can.

What are your tips for more satisfying online communication?


Coronavirus Relephant Reads: 
When Things Fall Apart: My Favorite Pema Chödrön Quotes for Quarantine.
When friends are Struggling, don’t wait for them to Reach Out—Reach In.
When Isolation is the Cure & the Source of our Pain & Dysfunction.


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