Online communication by default

Since lockdowns started being implemented as a result of the Covid-19 threat it seems like we’ve fallen through Alice’s looking-glass. We find ourselves on the other side of a mirror in a world in which a lot looks the same but feels completely different.

We face an altered daily reality, even though we are the lucky ones who are not, or not yet, facing death and destruction as in some of the worst-hit regions in the world. We know that we are surrounded by danger, because of the messages from these parts of the world and from the medical professionals around us. But for most of us, this danger is invisible and therefore seems theoretical only.

It seems like we are catapulted into a reality with different rules as a result of fairy tales. We do not live the horrors of others and cannot imagine them. Nevertheless, almost everything we know is turned inside out, as if we were teleported to another planet. On this new planet, nothing can be taken for granted. Nearness to others is either dangerous and should be avoided at all costs or is obligatory if we share our living space with them. Ventures into the outside world feel as if we enter a land full of zombies. At the same time, our lifeline to our former reality is online. Online we keep contact with friends and family, online we work and study, and we online order many of our supplies.

Unfortunately, we are not made to live our lives online by default. Communication online is not just communication offline by different means. As youngsters experienced in an experiment we conducted, it is different to communicate online by necessity. Whereas the youngsters in our experiment enjoyed communicating online by choice a lot, they very much disliked having online communication as their only option available. After just a few hours of being in the experiment, all gave up trying to communicate online only. And after twenty-four hours all youngsters indicated that they felt like contact with their surroundings had been reduced to a mechanical stream of information that made them feel as if they were permanently too late. They described how they experienced that the richness of life was sucked out of their nearness with others during the experiment and that they were stuck in a reality that was both boring and burdening. The only youngster who was not completely dissatisfied with the experience was a student who was diagnosed with an autism specter disorder.

In our world, on the other side of the mirror, we are confronted with communication online as a necessity. In order to avoid the negative experiences of the youngsters in our experiment we need to approach communication online as a conscious challenge; it is not enough to just continue what we were doing. We must accept that reality has changed, even if the cause of this change is invisible. We must find new ways to experience satisfaction and joy in all fields of our lives, and especially in our communication.

In this blog, my wife and I will share our reflections and thoughts on online communication forms that can bring us satisfaction and joy, based on our projects, experiments, and experience.