COVID-19 has ripped the band-aid off our peculiar dependence on losing ourselves in superficial entertainment as well as our compulsion to dine out. It’s common to hear plaintive, exasperated people say that after three months of COVID-19 distancing they are going “stir crazy” because they haven’t been able to eat a restaurant. To be sure, these people are not going without food – they are not hungry. There is no shortage of food – just the ability to safely sit in a commercial establishment and have someone prepare that food and serve it to you. Then there’s also the “depression” affecting a number of people, mostly men, that there are no live sports on TV. Their particular addiction is so intense that they often resort to watching reruns of games where the plays are known and outcomes are already determined.
These activities may not be true addictions, but COVID-19 has helped show that in recent years people seem to have exchanged 98.6 degree, interpersonal interactions for the instant gratification of a restaurant meal, or watching a live rugby game from Australia.
Why? It could be we have deprecated our interpersonal skills, in part, due to technology. We’ve lost our appreciation for the rewards of focusing on those we’re with, we’ve lost our ability to be “present.” How many times have you been out with friends at dinner and there was sparse conversation because everyone was focused on their smartphone? Or, how many times have you been with a group of friends and the same thing happens – the ubiquitous smartphone wins the battle against real, living, people for attention.
It’s an overused construct, but I wonder how many people will be on their death bed and wish they would have spent more time interacting with their smartphone and less time living in the moment, interacting with other living, breathing people.
Maybe the saddest thing of all is that people have allowed themselves to be seduced by technology and lured by an overabundance of restaurants to the point that there is no such thing as living in the moment. Life is all about being present because that’s all we really have. We can’t live in the past or the future – all we have is now. And somehow, we seem to be losing the ability to live in the moment as we willingly embrace the distractions of society.
I fear it may be too late for us to go back to the way we were. People will probably continue to prioritize watching that rugby game instead of talking to their spouse, they will prefer looking at their smartphone rather than looking at the person sitting across from them, or they will choose going to that new restaurant instead of trying to make a new recipe with a friend.
I know I’m waxing nostalgic, but I miss the era when people had no choice but to interact directly with other people. I remember those interactions as being more measured, of higher quality, and ultimately more meaningful, although admittedly less convenient. I find myself wondering if it would be easier not to view today through that historical lens. Maybe, but I’m sure having that historical context makes it easier to adapt to the “sacrifices” demanded by COVID-19.