“let’s grab coffee and hang out!” has become,”I’ll send you the link to my Zoom room.”
It feels awkward and burdensome to try and casually virtually hang out with folks these days, because there is nothing casual about it. You have to set up the link, log on, wait for them to jump on, admit them, wait for their mic to connect, then invest more screen-time into something that once felt so effortless (for an extrovert anyway). You talk over each other, forget to un-mute and inevitably have wifi issues. I used to recharge by being with people – not anymore. Body language helped me to understand someone’s feelings on a subject – impossible now. Bumping into a friend on a walk sparked such joy in my day – now I’m lucky if I even encounter an individual in a week. Woe is me.
Without this cumbersome technology, this would have been a much more difficult year. The isolation is difficult – as I’m sure you can attest to as well – but technology has provided a way to stay engaged with others. How, then, have I and others managed to build meaningful connections through Zoom-only friendships while at Heller? I think to start, we need to understand that everyone’s definition of “meaningful” is different. Breadth and depth are varied in each interaction we have. For some, a 10-minute breakout room during class provides enough of a meaningful connection to last a month. While to others **cough cough: me** we require more people time to charge our social-meter.
So, what have I done personally to adapt to this new platform? I immediately sought out interest groups outside of my classes to join. The Heller Student Association (HSA) and Brandeis Graduate Christian Fellowship groups are where my search began. Meaningful connection – both online and off, usually begin with a shared interest. In this case, the guesswork was removed, as I knew we all shared interests through these groups. Upon attending the first meeting for each, I worked hard to stay extremely present in the moment. I silenced my phone and set it aside, closed out my email application on my laptop, and shut my room door. I have found that one of the worst inhibitors to meaningful connections through Zoom is a whole different scope of virtual distractions. I reminded myself, “if I wouldn’t text or check my emails while face-to-face with someone, why should I not afford them that same respect through Zoom?”.
I am also a big proponent of keeping your video on while on Zoom, especially if there are only a few of you. I thrive on eye contact. Not the kind of eye contact that’s too intense and makes you feel uncomfortable (we all know those people), but the kind of eye contact that expresses your smile all the way through your face, or your intensity when talking about a passionate subject. I can talk to my wall any day with no response, but I want to see if what I said made you laugh, or think, or express concern.
This all boils down to the idea that meaningful connections can still happen through Zoom, but by seeking out opportunities to connect outside of obligations, removing distractions, and keeping your camera on, you can help facilitate an environment where these connections may grow more easily. If you have any additional tips that have worked please pass them my way!