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How The Pandemic Has Changed The Way We Communicate

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Here in the United States, some 1,700 people are still dying every day, and tens of thousands are getting infected. It's been almost a year since the pandemic changed every aspect of our lives and, in particular, the way we communicate. We asked some of you to tell us about how you've talked to the people in your life, what's worked for you over the last year and what hasn't.

JAY DANIELS: Before COVID-19, we would, you know, have our occasional phone calls where I called my parents, like, every Wednesday. And I talked to my sister every once in a while. But the pandemic has changed all that. So we've gone from infrequent communication to now every Friday night, we have a Zoom dinner where the three families can get together, and the grandkids can see each other, and we can talk and have dinner together. We don't ever miss it.

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JESSICA LINEHAM: On Thursday, March 20, 2020, my book club was scheduled to meet. Another member suggested we get together on Zoom, something we'd never done before. The rest is history. Since then, we've met up every single Thursday. We don't talk about a book every week, but we do spend a few hours chatting, commiserating and remembering what it's like to see our friends. And while I'm looking forward to getting vaccinated and seeing them in person, I have a feeling we'll keep up our more frequent Zooms, too.

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KAREN FREEMAN: I've always really loved writing handwritten letters and receiving them in the mail. So at the beginning of the pandemic, when I was missing my colleagues and friends, I gathered a bunch of postcards and started writing one to someone every day at lunch, someone I was thinking of and missing. And it was a great opportunity to connect with them. I loved receiving notes back and texts and people telling me how much it meant that I was thinking of them.

CLAIRE O'KEEFE: I teach community college, and probably the biggest change that I've witnessed is how the technologies that we rely on for remote learning have this tendency to bring new student voices into the conversation. Traditional face-to-face classes have a way of rewarding one kind of student, the one who's good at speaking extemporaneously and who is comfortable raising their hand. But now I hear from everybody, whether it's via discussion boards or the chat feature. And all of those multiple entry points have this wonderful, magical way of just blowing the class wide open.

CHRIS WELLS: My friends and I always found it hard to get together. And then the pandemic struck last March, and we found ourselves home alone. One thing that we all have in common is that we are Trekkies, meaning we love "Star Trek." And so we got together one night on Zoom and decided to watch an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" together through one of the watch party services. Believe it or not, we've been getting together almost every night since then.

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GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Jay Daniels (ph), Jessica Lineham (ph), Karen Freeman (ph), Claire O'Keefe (ph) and Chris Wells (ph). While technology has been great for some people - and shoutout there to those "Star Trek" fans - there's a lot we do lose through a screen - eye contact, body language, nonverbal cues. We spoke with Amelia Aldao - she's a therapist in New York - about the future of post-pandemic communication. I asked her if we found ways to compensate for what we've lost.

AMELIA ALDAO: To be honest, no. If you actually think about it - right? - we are not necessarily making eye contact. We're looking at the person on the screen, but we're not really looking at the camera. And if we are looking at the camera, we're not actually looking at the person. And that's actually very different, right? It's sort of changing the way in which we are looking into each other. So the eye contact is off.

And I've noticed myself, my clients and also some of my friends as well that then when we go see people in real life, we get a little awkward with the whole eye contact because we're sort of forgetting how to do it outside of the small circle of people that maybe live in our household or that we see regularly. So the eye contact is a big adjustment that we're all going to be facing in the next few months, to be honest.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I asked people on Twitter what their experience has been with communicating during COVID, and some people had some really wonderful responses. You know, people are now handwriting each other letters as a reaction against this kind of enforced virtual world that we find ourselves in. They're playing board games virtually. They're talking with family that lives far away more often than they would otherwise. So there is, you know, something positive that we can take away from all this. Do you think we will take away some of this virtual connection when we move forward - there'll be a sort of hybrid?

ALDAO: Yeah, I absolutely think so, and I hope so as well. It is convenient to use all these technologies to communicate, and that's useful. What we're missing by doing things that are efficient - this is usually in general, right? Whenever we optimize for efficiency, we tend to lose depth, and we tend to lose connection. So I think it's going to be finding a balance between using technology so that we can do certain things more efficiently, faster, better and then find time and space to connect with people differently, one-on-one, in the sort of messiness of the real world.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you tell your clients about how they should go back into the world as this pandemic and its effects end?

ALDAO: So the first thing that I tell my clients and my friends and myself and everybody who's willing to listen, to be honest, is that this is not going to be a switch that we turn on and off. Basically, approach this as a quote-unquote "exposure exercise." You know, maybe you grab a coffee with a friend one week. And then maybe two weeks later, you decide to make that into a dinner with a friend or a dinner with a friend and another friend.

So that's what I tell people - be patient. It's going to take a long time. But at the same time, you have to take agency and put yourself out there. And it's going to be awkward. It's going to be difficult. It's going to be anxiety-provoking. But it's really the only path forward. So that's how we're going to get through all of this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dr. Amelia Aldao is a therapist in New York City.

Thank you very much.

ALDAO: Yeah, thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.