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What Social Distancing is Teaching Me About Social Connection

The paradox of social distancing is that it’s teaching us a lot about social connection. If you grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, the future of communication was seeing the other person’s face on the other end of the phone. This has been possible for more than a decade, but people Text more than […]

The paradox of social distancing is that it’s teaching us a lot about social connection. If you grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, the future of communication was seeing the other person’s face on the other end of the phone.

This has been possible for more than a decade, but people

  • Text more than they call
  • Rarely answer the phone
  • Send instant messages more often than they use Facetime

In an episode of One Tree Hill, a character said, “can you imagine if texting had come after voice. People would say, “it’s amazing you can hear the person on the other end of the phone.” (cc: Sophia Bush don’t know if you remember this. That always stayed with me).

The funny thing is I’ve never liked talking on the phone, even though I’ve made a career out of doing precisely that with the Unmistakable Creative.

In our sophomore year of college, my oldest friend Sreoshi called me one night. Thirty seconds into the conversation, I said, “I’ m stoned. I don’t want to talk to you right now.” Because she’s the sweetest person in the world, she called me back 10 seconds after I hung up and said: “Srinivas, that’s not how you talk to girls on the phone.” She kept me on the phone for 20 minutes, and we’ve been friends for more than 20 years.

It’s incredible how much we take the power of having face-to-face conversations for granted. Social distancing is teaching us to use technology in the way it was always meant to be used.

Writing and podcasts are weird mediums of communication for a person like me who can’t stand being alone. Fortunately, interviewing people gives me an opportunity for intimate conversations. And I always have joked that it’s not a coincidence that I built a platform that ensures I’ll never stop meeting new people.

It’s a conversation/connection between my guests and me. But for my audience, it’s still a broadcast.

1. Connecting with Family

Indians are funny people in that they rarely express love according to your love languages. My parents aren’t particularly touchy and physically affectionate. But physical touch and words of affirmation are my love languages.

My cousin and I called my dad on Facetime when he was in India. We figured since we were together, he’d be happy to chat with us. Instead, he and my cousin’s dad said, “ok, we’re busy; we need to get breakfast and haircuts.” We joked that they didn’t give a shit about talking to us.

But on the flip side, my dad will do random things like send me new pairs of pajamas for no reason or buy my roommate, and I air filters to make sure we don’t get sick. So, you can’t question their love in moments like this.

Yet social distancing has somehow created a more profound social connection with all of us. Now we’re having family zoom calls almost daily. If you watched my documentary, you noted that our family gatherings are loud, crazy, filled with love and lots of good food.

Somehow we’ve managed to replicate this in a digital medium with our conversations on Zoom. We see each other’s faces, everybody keeps interrupting each other, and my grandmother keeps asking my mom if she’s using skin cream to make herself whiter.

My sister gives us a Covid 19 update since she’s a doctor. And then the conversation inevitably goes to food. We can ‘t eat together, so we talk about what we’re all eating instead.

What this has made me wonder is why we haven’t been doing this all along. If you’re lucky enough to have a family like mine, connect with them, not via texts or phone calls. But see their faces.

2. Creating For People You Care About

Creativity might feel like a luxury in uncertain and challenging times. But it can also be incredibly healing.

Good art gives people hope, find meaning in madness, and moments of peace in panic and pandemic.

As Neil Gaiman has said, Make Good Art. It’s a lifesaver.

Social distancing is teaching us that technology is not just a connection tool but a creation tool. It’s not just about uploading our lives to Instagram for people to envy.

Despite being stuck in his apartment, Trevor Noah is showing us how to expand the creative potential of technology. He’s still creating hilarious segments, connecting with correspondents, and even raising money for causes that need help.

It’s a powerful lesson for media creators everywhere. If he can recreate The Daily show with such limited resources, the question we should ask what’s possible for us?

Most people reading this have access to the tools he’s using to do this, a camera, a decent microphone, and an internet connection, and some interesting people he knows.

For our team at the Unmistakable Creative, we’re getting to know our listeners in a way we never have before.

  • Today one of our most loyal listeners, who is an economist gave us a detailed breakdown of the economic impact and talked about how we could come out of this better than before. We’ll be airing his breakdown on the podcast this coming Friday.
  • We’re asking parents who homeschool to join our listener tribe and support those who are making the transition. We also opened up our subscription community to educators for free.
  • We also plan to do a whole week of re-runs of our content that people need to hear the most.
3. Calling Old Friends and New Ones

In the last week of February, I had a first date. We’d been texting for two months because both of us were in the process of moving to Colorado. I got to Boulder in January, but her plan to move was delayed by a month.

A few days after we matched on an app, I sent her a picture of the books I was reading. One of them was Mandy Catron’s book How to Fall in Love with Anyone. It was a memoir based on the New York Times article that went viral.

That’s’ when I had the idea for a first date.

  • 36 questions,
  • 3 bars/venues,
  • I pick the first, she picks the second, and we pick the third together.

I thought she might think I was insane. But she agreed. 5 and a half hours after we met for the first time, we were eating pizza at 1 am. She’d found an apartment, signed a lease, and would be back in a month.

When I was telling my friend Gareth’s wife about this date, my roommate Matt said: “he’s totally smitten with this girl.” She said, “I know he is. He’s been talking about her for 10 minutes and hasn’t said a word about what she looks like.”

Sarah, who is arguably the most discerning and excellent judge of character in the world, has always called me on my bullshit. And she’s always been wary of the women I said were “super hot.” It’s never worked out with any of those girls.

Then the coronavirus completely derailed everything. Nick Notas, who was my dating coach for about six months, called me to catch up and said, “don’t let this die a slow death through texts if you like her. Get on the phone.” So I reached out to this girl and suggested we do that. And she agreed.

Brian Grazer said the following in his most recent book.

Swiping left or right is transactional. You can’t find trust, authenticity, or intimacy using Google. And exchanging texts and emails doesn’t give you a chance to really connect spirit to spirit with someone. If what you want is a meaningful relationship that goes beyond the surface, at some point, you have to get to know a person face to face.

The funny thing is that’s always been possible with technology. Social distancing is forcing us to see that technology is a connection and creation tool.

But we’ve spent the last decade using it as a broadcasting tool. We’ve been seeking and attention instead of growing affection. If there’s one thing we should remember when we return to normal, it’s this:

The ability to see each other’s faces and hear other’s voices and touch each other’s hearts is something we should never take for granted. Act accordingly.

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