Opening your bubble, finding safe spaces: How people are 'reaffirming' friendships during the coronavirus pandemic

In times of social distancing, people have managed to adapt and find creative ways to stay connected to loved ones through technology. Virtual celebrations, regularly scheduled Zoom calls, and overly-active group chats have been the glue keeping us close during a time when we’ve been more physically apart than ever. 

Jeffrey Hall, a friendship and technology expert who is a professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas, tells Yahoo Life how coronavirus pandemic has affected the ways in which we use technology to foster friendships and how this change may affect the future of friendships as the country continues to reopen. 

Prior to the pandemic, Hall says face-to-face interactions, which are “comfortable” and “casual,” were roughly two-thirds of all of our interactions. With stay-at-home orders in place, Hall noticed a “fundamental reshuffling” of how people communicated, as the majority of our interactions at work, school and within our communities disappeared. 

According to Hall’s forthcoming study on preferred communication modes during the coronavirus crisis, the technology people are using to stay connected during the height of the pandemic changed dramatically.

Hall warns that we should be careful when choosing the ways in which we keep in touch with people because some forms of technology may harm us more than they help us. For example, he found video chats to be the most “energy-intensive” compared to other modes of communication, forcing us to sustain an incredible amount of focus on them compared to phone calls or texting. This intensity leaves us with a “lagging sense of loneliness” afterward. 

While continuing to find normalcy, Hall says people will eventually and cautiously open “our bubble” to a wider network. But how will the technology that we have been so heavily dependent on intersect with our lives as the pandemic persists? What will getting together with friends look like, and how do we choose who to reunite with?

“What we're looking at as this crisis unfolds is people reaffirming their friendship,” Hall says, by carefully choosing who we are willing to reunite with despite the given risk, and who we can continue to call, text and video chat with. 

Hall also believes that without crowded places to congregate, such as concerts and bars, friendships will become a much more intimate and private affair that takes place in “safe spaces.” This may suggest a more meaningful way of spending quality time with friends.

In order to maximize our technology usage to sustain relationships, Hall stresses the importance of routine and intentional communication. While this is a practice that many have been forced into during the pandemic, it begs the question of whether these routines will be maintained once more regular face-to-face opportunities return.

Hall encourages that we keep these communication routines in place, reminding us that “keeping in touch with friends is a critically important thing for your own health and happiness.”

Video produced by Jenny Miller

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides. 

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