What COVID-19 has done to our social skills

Gauri Raje, Staff Writer

Since the beginning of the pandemic last year, we have had to isolate as a society. The human urge to socialize and meet other people has taken a backseat as we try to navigate through a global health crisis. I don’t think anyone ever imagined that we would have to transition to such a socially distanced way of living, but now that we’ve spent almost a year doing exactly that, it’s hard to imagine life before the pandemic.

Social isolation was not easy at first. It was hard to stay home and not see people face-to-face. The idea of not being able to interact with people physically was intimidating. We weren’t prepared for it.

However, almost a year into the pandemic, the situation has changed. Social isolation has become normal to the extent that social interaction has now become intimidating. We’ve grown too comfortable with Zoom calls and meeting people through the computer screen. We’ve grown too used to not interacting with people face to face. We’ve grown accustomed to a lack of social interaction.

The more I think about it, the scarier this new normal seems. It’s almost like we forget what it was like to actually  meet people every day, to talk to them, to interact with them and to have actual real-life conversations.

We’ve gotten so used to virtual life, and now that the pandemic is coming to an end, I don’t think we’re ready just yet to go back to normal. Regardless of whether you liked to socialize and meet new people before the pandemic started or not, the pandemic has impacted everyone’s ability to engage in face-to-face physical interactions.

As an introvert myself, social interactions are a struggle for me to begin with. I was really looking forward to my very first year at a university as a way to improve my social skills and capabilities. It’s fair to say that didn’t really work out too well. On the other hand, the pandemic has done nothing but further limited my social skills.

Whether I like it or not, I have come to prefer having limited virtual interactions with my peers. I find that it requires much less effort on my part to join a Zoom class than to actually sit through a physical class and interact with my peers. After so many months of virtual interaction, I don’t know how I feel about going back to social life as it was before the pandemic.

What I do know is that it’s not going to be easy; it’s almost like going through the process of unlearning a skill only to try and learn it after a long hiatus.

We’re all going to have a hard time not being able to simply hit the mute button or switch off our camera when we don’t want to interact with other people. We won’t have the luxury of hiding behind our computer screens. We will have to go through the process of physical interaction without any alternatives. Social interactions in person are going to be extremely nerve-racking at first. How do you go up to a person and initiate a conversation? How do you keep the conversation going without it becoming awkward?

I think everyone is going to have to face these questions as we transition back to ‘normal’ life. The hard part is that there are no right answers. There’s no guide to successful social interactions. We’re all going to be contemplating every possible situation, trying to come up with ways to make the process of face-to-face interaction less of a hassle. Sometimes it’s going to work and other times it’s not. It’ll probably be a while until we’re finally comfortable enough to transition back to physically interacting with other people without the added anxiousness and awkward feeling.

It’s rather odd to think of everyday interactions as a task–something we need to work on. And here we are, trying to go back to normalcy, hoping we don’t run into socially awkward situations and conversations given our rusty social skills. But if it’s any consolation, we’re all at the same point – starting right from the basics. We’re all in the process of learning to socialize once again.