A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jul 26, 2020

Zoom Is Reconnecting People In the Pandemic. But Will It Last?

The pandemic restrictions are causing many friends and families to reconnect more frequently via Zoom and other electronic media than they did before the virus struck. This is especially true for Boomers and their progeny who tend to live further apart from each other than previous generations.

The looming question is whether these connections will survive if and when the pandemic ends, but many believe that habits adapted under duress tend to last. JL

Clare Ansbery reports in the Wall Street Journal:

75% of people surveyed between March 27 and May 8 have been in touch with family virtually, with a third connecting most days or every day. 25% of those surveyed report feeling more in touch than usual. The increased frequency of connections—whether texting jokes, sharing podcast links, or meeting for Zoom cocktails online—can have a lasting impact. “One of the biggest changes for the generation of Boomers and their kids is that families don’t live in the same place. The pandemic has really brought that to the surface.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has deepened the bonds of many families and friends in unexpected ways.
Sisters who haven’t seen each other for years now connect every other week in Zoom calls. Parents notice a tenderness in concerned adult children and wonder whether they should move closer to them. An uncle gets to know the grown sons of his late brother.
Many of these people are closer now than they were before the pandemic, and expect that deeper bond to last, even if they aren’t on video-chats and calls every week. The same is true among many friends from formative childhood and college years who have recently reconnected.
“There are things people learn about each other that they might not have known if not for the urge to connect during the pandemic,” says Jeffrey Hall, professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas.
Since the pandemic, he has been making several calls weekly to family and friends who live in other states, including one who lives in Seattle and just became a father. Dr. Hall, who has been a dad for 10 years, listened to his friend talk about the baby’s first smile.
“It is one thing to see photos shared on Facebook, it is a whole other to hear the wonder in his voice when we talk,” says Dr. Hall, who prefers phone calls to video calls. Dr. Hall, author of the recently published “Relating Through Technology,” found in a recent survey of 1,947 people that video calls can leave people feeling lonelier because they realize how much they miss a person.
Clinical psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair says the increased frequency of connections—whether texting goofy jokes, sharing podcast links, or meeting for Zoom cocktails online—can have a lasting impact.
“The more time you clock in with people, the more space they take in your hearts and thoughts,” says Dr. Steiner-Adair, who wrote “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age.”
She has always been close to her adult children, who live in California, calling often. But with the pandemic, she and her husband, who live in Cambridge, Mass., felt a greater need to see their faces in Zoom and FaceTime calls.
“We want to see them, know they are OK,” she says. It has also caused the entire family to rethink choices they have made to live so far away from each other. “One of the biggest changes for the generation of Boomers and their kids is that families don’t live in the same place,” says Dr. Steiner-Adair, who grew up near her grandmother and saw her at least once a week. “The pandemic has really brought that to the surface.”
In TouchSince Coronavirus hit the U.S., more than 75%of those in a survey said they have been intouch with family virtually.Respondents who spent time with familyonline (e.g. Skype, Facetime)Source: Survey from "Love in the Time of Covid"research project.Note: Data was collected March 27-May 8 based on asample size of 4,767.
Richard Slatcher, a professor of psychology at the University of Georgia, is working on a project with two international colleagues called “Love in the Time of Covid” to explore how the pandemic is influencing how connected people feel to each other.
More than 75% of the 4,767 people surveyed between March 27 and May 8 have been in touch with family virtually, with a third connecting most days or every day. Roughly 25% of those surveyed report feeling more in touch than usual. People tend to feel more connected in smaller video-conference calls—one to two people—than bigger ones. They feel least connected with four or more people on a call, says Dr. Slatcher.
He’s not sure how long that feeling of close connection will last, especially when restrictions are lifted.
“When we get back to social lives, going to dinner, high-school soccer games and all the activities cancelled during the pandemic, I don’t know if people will take the time to keep the conversations going virtually,” he says. After the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, he says, people just wanted to forget about it and get on with their lives.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, his wife, Julia, began having Zoom calls with her four sisters, who are scattered around the country and haven’t been together since their mother’s 80th birthday, which was seven years ago.
It started off weekly and now happens every other week. Her mom joins and when she signs off, the sisters, who range in age from 48 to 59, often play games, including Psych and Photo Roulette. Ms. Slatcher remembers groaning when one sister suggested it. “I was like ‘No. Not that,’ but it was actually pretty funny.”
Between the Zoom calls, they text each other with recommendations for books and TV shows. One sister sent photos of her paintings and drawings.
“I had no idea she had that talent,” says Ms. Slatcher. “We’re seeing sides of each other we might not have otherwise seen.”
One sister, Cate Waidyatilleka, now also uses Zoom to reconnect with friends from high school, graduate school and the Peace Corps, where she worked in the mid-1980s in Sri Lanka. Many had suffered illnesses and loss. One was recovering from a car accident and two others from addiction.
“It was a real eye-opener. I didn’t know all my friends were going through these things,” she says. Rather than depressing her, she was inspired by their resilience.
“Sharing the difficult times has been a way of getting closer. It helps not being alone to face those things,” she says. When she recently had a knee replaced, she received cards and gifts from her newly reconnected friends. One Peace Corps friend died suddenly of a heart attack a week ago. “How grateful I am that we had three Zoom reunions and were all back in touch,” she says.
Karen Gershowitz, newly retired and living in Manhattan, started organizing weekly video calls this spring with a dozen family members, representing three generations scattered across four states. Aside from funerals, graduations and weddings, they rarely got together, says Ms. Gershowitz, who is single. Her oldest brother, Michael, died five years ago. Her other sibling, Roy, who lives on Long Island, barely knew Michael’s son, Matthew Hahn. And he had never met his nephew’s two sons.
That’s changed. “I’ve probably seen my uncle more since the pandemic than I have seen him in 30 years,” says Matthew, who lives in Bloomington, Ind. Mr. Hahn’s two sons, ages 10 and 13, join the calls, telling knock-knock jokes.
Roy, 73, says he is getting to know more about his brother’s family. “I very rarely saw my nephew in Indiana. He and I normally didn’t chit-chat on the phone,” he says. Now, he tries to have a joke or riddle in hand for his great-nephews before the Zoom call. “I prep,” he says, offering one example: “What four days of the week begin with T?”
Because of the Zoom calls, he’s also in closer touch with Michael’s other son, Gabriel Gershowitz, who lives in Manhattan. “I got to see his apartment,” says Roy. “He walked around with his camera and gave us a virtual tour.”
Gabriel says he thinks the regular calls with family members who seldom saw each other will make a difference. “Even if the Zoom isn’t lasting, the memories of coming together will always remain,” he says.
Ms. Gershowitz hopes to continue the calls, perhaps monthly rather than weekly. “I think we’ve all gotten a lot closer,” she says. “It makes me very happy. I’m kind of the family glue.”


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