On Our Need for People

I got a taste of Maslow’s third stage and now I can’t get enough.
(https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve been dreaming about the world of people since March 2020. As an extrovert, I crave social interaction. I’m not talking about big parties or dance clubs (never my deal). Rather, I’ve missed the conversations that make up everyday life — with employees at a store, colleagues in the copy room, students in the hallway, parents at kids’ activities — casual, unplanned encounters, along with scheduled coffee and lunches with friends.

My second dose of Moderna gave me the freedom to start planning again. To clarify, I am far from ready to whip off my mask and attend an indoor wedding or stroll into a casino. I’m talking about outdoor exchanges with fellow vaccinated friends.

These little tastes of socialization have reminded me of what makes life really good. Yes, Zoom has worked for the last year. But video chats are not the same. The virtual platform just cannot naturally convey the ease of small talk.

We have been disconnected from each other, our community, and the world. My few recent encounters over the last couple of weeks (two coffee meetings outside, some hallway chitchat, and speaking with three fellow parents on separate occasions), have reminded me of just how much we need to socialize. Even if we just speak of the mundane — no innovation, nothing is moved forward or seemingly “accomplished” — value exists in the interaction itself. Our current collective awkwardness at doing so demonstrates the necessity of connecting with other people.

While I regularly consume social media platforms, they are not a substitute for in-person conversation. Facebook and Twitter are great for sharing personal news, observations of the mundane, and pics of cute things. These virtual spaces do not allow for elaboration of that news or in-depth discussions. Our reliance on these platforms as socialization substitutes has been inevitable, yet faulty, as we are reduced to “likes,” hearts, celebratory phrases, and emotional abbreviations. Or even worse, social media sometimes reveals the raw hatred of humanity, with posts voicing thoughts so nasty that you would never say them in public (prompting me to click “Unfollow”).

Connection only through technology is a distant second to in-person interaction. Nothing can replace a smile, a laugh, or a sympathetic head nod (or a hug — once we get there). We need other people. The last few weeks have reminded me that life is so much more enjoyable when you can share your thoughts and experiences, while listening to those of a fellow human. And now that I’ve had a little interaction, I WANT MORE. (Friends, I promise to dial it back if we get together so I don’t scare you away).

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