Talking: The old-fashioned way

As more pandemic restrictions lift, we will have to re-learn how to talk, face to face. The other evening I called a friend. She couldn’t talk because she was out, having drinks and dinner at a bar. It all sounded very magical and exotic. I hear about my friends having more of these experiences. Each time, I pause for a moment, to imagine what it will be like to actually have conversations, again, face to face all the time, instead of an occasional treat.

For the last 15+ months I think most of us have been surviving socially on video calls. But it’s not the same thing. I find on video or conference calls, there can be a lot of awkwardness. For example, it’s hard to know when to speak. Sometimes there’s a slight delay so two people are speaking at the same time. Without important non-verbal communication cues, it’s difficult to know when somebody is about to speak. Or even to gage when they’re finished speaking.

The video calls at work also get challenging. I use two monitors. The camera is on my laptop, but if I’m screen sharing, or taking notes, I’m almost always doing that on my second monitor. Consequently, I’m never looking directly into the camera. I just can’t get the angle right for the laptop and the monitor, so that I’m more squarely visible.

Even talking on video, it’s also hard to figure out when to speak sometimes. During work meetings, I often end up raising my hand, otherwise it can be difficult to jump in. Nobody is making direct eye contact with anyone else, or noticing other non-verbal cues that make up the majority of communication. Reading facial expressions is almost impossible when everybody’s face is a tiny little box, sometimes blurry, or distorted because of using a background setting.

I often wonder, when we’re finally allowed to move about freely, will we have lost the art of communicating? Will it be a chapter in future history books how we used to get along by talking with one another, unmasked, in person, and out in the open?

I suppose we’ll have to wait and see what happens. In the meantime, I’m hoping to keep my face-to-face talking skills sharp by having small, outdoor picnic-style lunches with friends while the weather is still nice.

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