When was the last time you had an unscheduled conversation with an acquaintance? In my case, they are now rare. Which is sad.
Casual conversations used to be incidental, like the pleasantly chirping bird you spy perched in a blossoming tree on your walk to the post office. An unplanned but welcome interlude between tasks.
Now that most of us work remotely, we have lost the opportunity and ability to casually converse. Sure, we are more productive but I suspect we are suffering the psychological equivalent of a vitamin deficiency. We are reluctant to admit it for fear of questioning the status quo.
I am not convinced we are biologically adapted to constantly stare at each other’s faces imprisoned within digital Zoom rectangles, like a dystopian version of the opening credits of The Brady Bunch. Ask anyone who has just finished a streak of back to back video meetings how they feel, and the answer will be, ‘I’m fucking exhausted!’
The exhaustion and sense of numbness we feel is due to the fact virtual meetings do not provide an optimum level of conversational nutrition. They are the equivalent of binging on McDonald’s burgers. You think you are eating real food but after a while you feel gross.
We used to avoid ‘psychological vitamin deficiency’ by talking with people in a cafe or bar. Unscripted conversations over a brew or a beer enriched our day and helped us build informal social connections. Those essential nutrients have been stripped from our diet now that every interaction is a calendar invite with an attached Zoom or Microsoft Teams link. The new normal is hardly normal. It is abnormal.
One of the essential conversational vitamins is empathy. Our reliance on mediated forms of communication slowly depletes our store of it. Without physical contact, we begin to think of people, not as flesh and blood humans, but as electronic presences who do not respond fast enough to our requests, or worse yet, have the ‘wrong’ opinion of things.
A physical vitamin deficiency develops slowly and if left unchecked, unpleasant symptoms will appear in your body. What symptoms will appear in society’s body? Our newly acquired intolerance for the human way we used to interact is propelling us towards an unhealthy place.
If we are not careful, we will all soon have sallow skin and an ugly personality.