Great Falls National Park

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: Great Falls Park; McLean, Virginia, USA

Whitehaven Trails

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Whitehaven Trails and Chesapeake and Ohio Canal; Washington, District of Columbia, United States

The End of Daily Social Interactions?

“One consequence of the pandemic that has accelerated in terms of being an option for our lives is how the easiness and convenience of going a day or more without seeing or speaking to another human being.”

One consequence of the pandemic that has accelerated in terms of being an option for our lives is how the easiness and convenience of going a day or more without seeing or speaking to another human being. Obviously, if you’re counting virtual meetings on Zoom or Microsoft Teams, you’re interacting with plenty of people on a daily basis but to me, it’s not the same and shouldn’t be considered a real replacement for face-to-face interactions. Whereas ten or twenty years ago, you would need to leave the house or apartment to get pretty much anything done, you now have the chance to do everything from the comfort of your own domicile, for better or for worse.

If you’re an introvert, you may be welcoming this kind of societal shift, but I do worry how we are sacrificing convenience for social awareness and better interpersonal relations. Even if you consider yourself pretty comfortable on your own, I don’t think it’s necessarily healthy to be cooped up all the time even in a pandemic. Of course, we have to be socially distant, stay home according to what guidelines may be in place, and keep washing our hands but that shouldn’t prevent us from saying ‘hello’ to a stranger or asking a cashier that’s not a robot or automated computer the common courtesy of ‘how you are doing?’

Right now, it’s acceptable to minimize human to human contact especially if you’re elderly, vulnerable, or with a preexisting condition but the rest of us should still make time to interact with someone outside of our ‘COVID bubble’ even if it’s in a limited way. I do believe that companies have made it way too easy for us to subsidize our usual running of errands by keeping us at home. While it does help people, who can’t leave due to concerns for their health, I think it does a disservice in making things a little too convenient and then perhaps keeping our reliance on applications, e-commerce, and delivery services to meet our every need.

Running errands to go to the grocery store or to pick up stamps or to pick up medical prescriptions may end up going the way of the Dodo bird and while some of us may be holdouts even after the pandemic, this is a huge societal shift that will affect our way to socialize and build shared communities with other people. The 2020s may have us needing to go out of our way and building our willpower up in terms of seeking out social connections rather than them happening organically. In order to meet new people, it may not happen as much if your university is online or you are a remote worker, you’re going to have to put it upon yourself to find a way to meet people again which will take some creativity.

The good news is that clubs, organizations, sports teams, and language groups aren’t going to die out even if some of them remain online in some capacity. You will have to seek out those groups that are similar to your hobbies and interests especially if you’re in a new city or a new country, but they are going to be out there, but you have to take the initiative to find those groups, attend those meetings, get involved, and also give back to that group when you can. Volunteering your time and effort in person will also be a boost to communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and even after it is finally over, if you find yourself isolated and needing to be social more, volunteering with others is a great way to do it and will be sorely needed due to economic and health needs that people will need help with.

What you need to avoid is getting too comfortable with the increasing automation of our society, which will make it harder to deal with anyone face to face, for better or worse. Even if you do leave the house, it’s becoming likelier that you’ll deal with an automated register at a convenience store or supermarket, an ATM at a bank, and with a touchscreen to order food. With just a smartphone alone, you can order groceries delivered to your door, get dry cleaning picked up for you, have prescriptions delivered, food for lunch and dinner, and also most consumer items with a conglomerate like Amazon or Alibaba. The eCommerce industry is set to grow exponentially in this young decade to suit consumer needs and with the rise of Internet of Things, your home will become more adjustable to your comforts too making it harder to leave your place.

Whether it is UberEats, HelloFresh, Amazon’s prescription service (coming soon), online banking, or Zoom for teleconferencing, the pandemic has accelerated wide shifts in society and one that becomes more evident each day is how much easier it is getting to stay at home 24 / 7. Again, after the pandemic, this may let up a bit as people socialize again but the automation of jobs will continue, remote working will become the norm, and online education will become cheaper and of better quality to suit those who want to be virtual for at least part of their higher learning.

I don’t encourage people to become hermits, recluses, or to avoid human contact with anyone who is not a family member or a friend even if it’s during a pandemic with safety precautions in mind. However, the societal shift to convenience at any cost and becoming an island to oneself does have a cost. While you may love your dog Fido or your cat Fifi, they are not substituting for other people. With increased convenience comes a cost like anything else and in this case, it’s our ability to socialize and be around others.

In a post-COVID world where automation, eCommerce, and the Internet of Things will make it harder to leave your home, you are going to need to be more proactive in seeking out activities, events, and groups where you can be free to meet new people and have new friends. We will all be socially awkward after the pandemic but at least we’ll be social again and I promise it will be worth the effort.

While you’re not going to be friends with most of the people we meet, it is important to be open to the possibility and to put yourself out there again. Staying at home with your delivered food, groceries, and prescriptions may be really appealing and easy to get used to but I promise after a while, you’ll miss the feeling of going to a physical store or a pharmacy and just being in a public place again and away from your screen(s). That’s a unique feeling that I hope never truly goes away because our daily interactions, somewhat mundane but potentially unique too, can help make our life that much fuller and richer.

Cayuga Lake

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Cayuga Lake; Finger Lakes; Ithaca, New York

Taughannock Falls

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Taughannock Falls State Park; Ithaca, New York

Cornell Botanical Gardens

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Cornell University; Ithaca, New York

Buttermilk Falls State Park

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Buttermilk Falls State Park; Ithaca, New York

Museum of Tomorrow (Museo do Amanhã)

Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Museum of Tomorrow; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio from the Water

Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

See the Stars

“If you are going through troubles in your life, I believe it can be comforting to see the stars not only to realize that while our problems are serious and need to be dealt with, it is also good to realize the beauty in things and nothing is perhaps more beautiful than a clear, night sky where you can see the constellations, the full moon, and even a shooting star if you are lucky.”

One nightly ritual that should make a comeback is to see the stars. A simple yet effective way to remember our place in the universe and how small we really are when it comes to the cosmos. If you are going through troubles in your life, I believe it can be comforting to see the stars not only to realize that while our problems are serious and need to be dealt with, it is also good to realize the beauty in things and nothing is perhaps more beautiful than a clear, night sky where you can see the constellations, the full moon, and even a shooting star if you are lucky.

While not likely under the traditional definition for a ‘meditation experience’, I think that you can definitely get lost in your own thoughts or perhaps stop thinking for a while as you concentrate on the brightest stars or the allure of the full moon. Instead of thinking about your problems and your worries, you can try to map the ‘Big Dipper’ or ‘Orion’s Belt’, which can be a fun activity not just for you but for your loved one as well.

In our modern, fast-paced world, it is increasingly difficult to find places or open spaces where light pollution has not clouded the stars or has kept us from fully appreciating the sheer number of stars, galaxies, and planets out there in the universe. If you live in a major city or even a big town, light pollution as well as other forms of pollution have likely kept you from appreciating the stars in their full capacity. I honestly believe that shutting off the city lights or the town’s lights for just a few minutes for some simple star gazing would ease a lot of people’s anxieties, stresses, and worries as they look to the heavens to see the possibilities of what lies beyond humanity’s reach.

In my opinion, looking at the stars is more humbling than scary, more illuminating than disturbing, and more beautiful than dark. A clear sky on a full night is a precious gift and one for which we should all appreciate in those little moments of peace that we can make for ourselves in our daily lives. Not only is it healthy for you to relax, to grab a chair, and even make a snack over the fireplace while you appreciate the stars above, it’s a great way to bond with your family and your friends.

Sadly, you may need to take a vacation to a rural country home or to a mountain chalet in order to be able to immerse yourself in stargazing. Most of us around the world live in densely populated communities and cities where finding the stars is as difficult sometimes as finding the sky during the day due to the various forms of pollution. However, it’s good in general to go to quiet spots from time to time where the air is fresh, the water is clean to drink, and the stars are bright to enjoy nature in its fullest.

From open country fields to the mountain tops, there are still places out there in the world that are isolated from civilization and where you can really appreciate the stars at night. It may take effort and money to do so but it’s worth it to be introspective and to think about what could be out there, what it could be like to explore those different planets that may be habitable to man, and how cool it would be to be up in space where gravity is non-existent and where you can see how small and unique our little blue planet really is.

One tip that you should consider using to fully appreciate the stars is a really good telescope that can zoom in to see certain constellations and planets at a really high resolution and for which you can eventually become good at making a map over a week or a month of where they are located at in the night sky. Telescopes are the best tool for also seeing shooting stars or seeing what stage the moon is in during its monthly cycle. It can be a worthwhile investment if you live in a rural or unpopulated area where the night sky is always clear, and the stars are abundant to see.

Being able to appreciate the stars is a simple joy and one which is overlooked in a fast-paced world. However, I believe it is good for the soul and for our peace of mind. Looking at a full night sky has different meanings for different people but for me, it is reassuring. It’s nice to know what what we consider astronomical problems here on Earth are actually not that big in the grand scheme of the universe.

We should try to keep our small place in the universe in mind when we consider the scale of our own Earth-based problems. While it’s a definite fact that we must make our own planet more livable, freer, more just, and cleaner, we also have to acknowledge that we are most likely not alone in its great expanse. Our place in the universe and even in our own Milky Way galaxy is so tiny that we can’t help but appreciate what could lie beyond our planet and that maybe one day we will finally be able to find out what’s out there and to reach further for the stars than we did before to find out, once and for all, if we are truly alone in the universe and also what Earth-like planets would be there for us to discover and perhaps live on?