Putting the Social into Distancing
If, like me, social interaction is your sustenance, these strange times will have led to new ways of hanging with your tribe.
First, I tried the telephone. It was so long since I’d used the device as a phone that it felt peculiar to lift it to my ear. Soon I was ringing everyone to talk about how weird it was to communicate using our actual voices.
After a few days, voices weren’t enough.
I tried Facetiming my elderly parents. I became overly familiar with the inside of my father’s ear as he forgot to point the screen at his face, then had to remind him to put his teeth in.
On social media, Apps were mentioned by people who usually work in the real world. Zoom and Houseparty were mooted as ways to pretend everything was normal and we aren’t all just staring at the same four walls.
Trying out these new ways of communicating, I’ve found it oddly reassuring that people don’t really change however you interact with them. Those who hog the conversation still do that on Zoom, those who observe and judge are still sitting back, arms crossed, mouths firmly closed.
I’ve listed some of the traits I have recognised in my virtual meet-ups. Which one are you?
The Technophobe Bless their cotton socks. After the banging and scuffling noises, comes the tutting and swearing, until, eventually, you get a lovely view of their ceiling as they shout, ‘Can you see me now?’
The Conductor Likely to be the leader of the group, this person is invested in the success of the call. They bestow their attention equally between the participants, making the conversation flow. Grinning manically at the screen, they’re exhausted by the effort of guiding their human orchestra.
The Interrupter The border around the face of this enthusiastic participator shines brighter than anyone else’s because they never shut up. The rule of ‘one mouth and two ears, use them proportionately’ has never applied to this person.
The One Who Forgets They’re on Camera It’s rarely going to be as bad as the woman who took her laptop into the toilet with her, but some people do pick their noses and eat it. Yes really. And rolling your eyes at Aunty Jill whilst she’s staring at you on a 15-inch screen in the family chat is not going to impress her, or your mother.
The Close-Up This one’s channelling Gary Barlow as he head-butts the camera in his lockdown performances. The Close-Up is also the least likely to trim their nasal hair, so you have to watch it flutter every time they exhale.
The Background Arranger This is the same person who plumps their cushions and puts out fresh flowers when you visit. Behind their perfectly made-up face is a bookshelf with the spines of Penguin Classics ordered alphabetically. You can almost smell the freshly ground coffee they’re sipping from the tiny espresso cup whilst you slurp a mug of builder’s tea and shove your Jilly Cooper to one side.
The VIP The constant tapping and looking down at the keyboard lets you know this person is very busy and can’t possibly take time away from their terribly important tasks to do something as trivial as give you their full attention. (Caveat – if this person is finding a cure for Covid-19 or treating/helping people, my sniping doesn’t count. Get off their screen and let them get on with it!)
The Screen-Shotter If we’d known a photo of the meet-up would be on all of the screen-shotter’s social media feeds, we’d have brushed our hair. Although, Boris hasn’t bothered combing before his video messages from quarantine, and he has two million followers on Twitter.
The Monopoliser There are two facets to this demon. First, they dominate the conversation, making sure their points are discussed and their concerns addressed. Then they bugger off. This is their most irritating trait because once their issues have been dealt with, they make it blatantly clear that yours have no value to them.
The Mute They always turn up. They add little in the way of conversation, but nod along and offer the odd grunt of agreement or chortle of support. For every interrupter we need one mute for balance.
The Vainglorious Never taking their eyes off themselves, this one uses the screen as a mirror, angling their head so the light catches their cheekbones or sitting with their chin balanced on their palm to hide their jowls.
The Drinker It’s called HousePARTY after all, so why not have a drink? Everyone else has poured themselves a glass of wine and occasionally lifts it to their lips. The drinker has brought the bottle and refills their glass every ten minutes until the bottle is gone. Which is fine, apart from it’s only midday.
The Snacker Since we can only shop once a week, a bag of crisps has the equivalent value of white truffles. The snacker pulls precious packets from their hiding places, attempting to open them silently, whilst looking over their shoulders for kids who can hear the rustle of metallised plastic film from another county.
The Writer I am certainly eating twice as much as normal. At the end of all this I’ll be rolled out of my house in a diabetic coma, which may be a blessing, because after putting this into the world, nobody will be speaking to me anyway. Which is a shame, because I could really do with a non-virtual hug.
Illustration by John Timoney