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  • Writer's pictureAlex Brûlée

Social (media) Distancing

I’ve had approximately 9 zoom calls, 5 facetime, and 2 google hangouts today. It hasn’t even hit 2 o’clock yet. While my predicament is partially a product of AP fever, it also highlights a newfound social consequence of COVID. A social consequence that is draining people across the world at an alarming rate.

It feels like everyone and their grandmother is talking about the importance of staying connected to friends and loved ones during online during quarantine, but I’m here to talk about the reciprocal of that: what happens when we can’t log off?

I’m sure pre-quarantine we’ve all given a flimsy excuse to get out of an unwanted social function or to leave a call early. The textbook- “I have a doctor’s appointment”, “my mom said I can’t” excuse. It’s considered the polite way to bow out of a conversation, sure. Rather than say you don’t want to talk any more, you just have to go. It’s the platonic equivalent of “it’s not you, it’s me.”

But with quarantine, we all have one thing in common: we have nothing to do.

This creates an odd state of affairs for a society that only accepts unavailability in a constantly bustling word. Particularly in the U.S., while personal space is prized, one of the only ‘polite’ ways to decline an invitation is to say you’re already busy or occupied. To do so would be to drop that polite facade that everyone and their dog is supposed to master. However, now, no one is occupied, implying no one has the “premature plans” response. For many, this means we’re playing new social COVID games, but with the same chess pieces we had before in person.

The result? An awkward cacophony of poor excuses and goodbyes. Have you ever tried ending a zoom call or facetime that was purely social? Chances are then, you know the discomfort it comes with. The veil has been stripped, and instead of being able to pretend we’re busy, it’s now clear: this event has stopped being fun for us, and we’d like to leave.

But I ask an even more controversial hypothetical: why is that so bad? Why are we expected to lie and politely bow out of every social function? We need to focus on the U.S. again since it is one of the countries with the worst “friendliness” epidemic, Americans do have a culture for talkativeness and politeness, but it comes with this added air of unavailability. Almost so that we expect others to be polite and kind to everyone, but be legitimately open to no one. Its this shroud of contentment that perpetuates the ‘availability’ crisis. Until the U.S. accepts, not just in theory, but in practice, the value of alone time, and dismiss the stigma around the ‘signoff excuse’ it is never going to have the freedom to be unabashedly honest, and in effect, more genuine and kind.

It should be stated, however, that this doesn’t mean we suddenly become assertive or rude when we want to gracefully exit though. One of the best things about the U.S., in my opinion, is that constantly cheerful disposition. It can be overwhelming for some or even come across as facetious, but I do genuinely think it speaks to a sense of social graces and sensibility that is almost admirable. However, we need to balance that amicability with care for ourselves, and what we want and need. It’s when we start to deny or suppress our actual need for ‘timeout’ time that those graces become forced, or even come across as fake.

The phrase “I’m tired” shouldn’t need to be prefaced with an apology. Instead, there should be gratitude that replaces that social expectance of shame. Instead of signing off your next zoom or facetime call with “I’m sorry, but my mom is calling me, I have to go,” be truthful. Say “thank you for talking to me, this has been fun, but I’m tired now. Can we talk another time?”

If we can stop lying to spare each other’s feelings, and start thanking each other for their company, we’ll see a more honest and kinder society. This extends to social media too. Especially at home, it’s important to log your hours and see how much time you’re actually spending alone vs how much time you spend logging in and checking to see what others are doing. It’s time to not only social distance but social (media) distance.

To read more articles from Alex Brûlée click here.

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