The Irony of Social Distancing in the Tech World

By Christine Persaud

Somewhere, in a dank, dark basement is a socially awkward yet brilliant guy shaking his head at the current situation. You know the guy. The one who everyone considers the stereotypical geeky tech nerd who doesn’t socialize with others. Instead, he chooses to stay home staring at his computer screen for hours on end. Yet today, we are all being forced to become this fictional person we have long shunned.

This isn’t to say that during our period of “social distancing,” where people are being asked to stay indoors and avoid gathering in large crowds, we should be playing video games, watching TV, and scrolling endlessly through social media 24/7. But we are being forced to connect with people in a way that many have criticized.

The younger generations are often stereotyped as being unable to hold down a conversation in person. But they sure know how to chat online. They post photos and thoughts on social media, comment on musings, like or dislike posts, and use emojis as if they were a universally understood language. Meanwhile, the older generations frown upon this practice, wondering how these young folks will ever survive in the real world without knowing how to have a real face-to-face interaction with someone. Well, welcome to the real world.

Given the COVID-19 coronavirus that is spreading like wildfire, governments have been asking citizens, including Canadians, to stay inside. We have no choice but to work from home and communicate with colleagues and clients by phone, video, or instant messaging. We can only “hang out” with friends and family via video apps, social media, and virtual hang-out parties. In essence, we’re doing everything we have long said is ruining society because, well, it’s all we have right about now.

Ironically, the very technology we blame for distancing us from human interaction is the only technology that will connect us today, keep businesses running successfully, and help us maintain our sanity as we self-quarantine. Grandparents can FaceTime or Skype call with their grandkids. You can find out your family in Italy is OK through social media messaging. Your kids can log into a gaming app and play with one another to replace the playdate they aren’t allowed to have. 

From a business perspective, orders can still be placed online. Trade shows and meetings can take place virtually using video conferencing solutions. Training can still occur over the web, sales made over the phone, article posted from the comfort of your home, and ideas shared over programs like Trello and Slack.

What has been a “technology be damned” viewpoint for so long is now technology, thank god you’re here!

It’s easy to focus on the ways that technology divides us when we consider how much we rely on it for communication in favour of more personal options. But in the wake of this crisis, and at a time when technology is all we have, we should reflect on all the good technological innovation can do – yes, even the services we loathe like social media or viral video sharing – and be thankful for the ways it has, and can, enhance our lives. This is especially important to do once we return to normal life and can shake hands and trade hugs once again. Sharing an emoji hug or a pulsing red heart emoji isn’t anything like a real gesture. But when it’s the only option we have, it sure is more reassuring than nothing. 

Photo by blackzheep;