Carlin’s Conventions, Issue 10

Physically Distant, Socially Connected

When I logged onto my telehealth doctors’ appointment last week, I didn’t know what to expect. A physical checkup clearly wasn’t going to be possible, given that each party to my “visit” was in their respective living room. Clearly, this meeting would be a far cry from a normal appointment. Still, I was surprised when her first question had seemingly nothing to do with my physical health at all.

“How have you been socially connecting with others?” she asked me. I could tell this wasn’t a small-talk-type question when I looked up at the screen and saw her glasses-framed eyes peering at me, waiting for me to answer.

“I’ve been calling and Zooming people, mostly,” I started. “And I’ve seen a few friends in person––at a safe distance, of course.” She looked down as if jotting something on a page and continued with the rest of the appointment. 

Though the doctor was far from the first person to ask me about my social habits during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve continued thinking about her question since the appointment. In particular, I was struck by the way she treated my response as a piece of medical information. As the days of staying at home have turned into weeks and the weeks have turned into months, there seems to be growing concern around the effects of social isolation on members of society. 

At first, I didn’t think much about what it would mean for me to have virtually no face-to-face interaction with my peers. Every BuzzFeed quiz I’ve ever taken calls me an “ambivert,” but I identify as introverted-skewing through and through. For me, meeting new people can oftentimes be overwhelming, and while I enjoy spending time with friends, I also value being alone.

But in the nearly two months since I cleaned out my locker and left Parker for what I now know to be my last true day of high school, I’ve come to realize that I took in-person interaction for granted. From random conversations in the locker area or by the fourth-floor chairs to having a conversation with a teacher after class to visiting my Little Brothers and Sisters, I miss the ease and the naturalness of socializing.

Although I’m less social than many of my peers, the absence of interaction has helped me to understand the importance of socialization to the human experience. As frustrating and mind-numbing as distance learning can be, I routinely look forward to logging into class and seeing my classmates. On walks, instead of listening to podcasts or music, I’ve begun more frequent calls to friends and family. Hearing their voices makes the time and distance apart feel less poignant.

Humans are relational beings––no matter how extroverted or introverted, we are defined and shaped by those with whom we associate most closely and frequently. In uncertain, isolating times, it’s more important than ever to reach out to those people, whether it’s a Zoom dinner, a socially-distant walk, or a regular old phone call. Doing so has made my world feel a little more connected and a little less small.