The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we communicate in more ways than one. Leaving online communication aside (for now), let’s consider the “usual” greetings manners. The first thing we’ve been told is to keep our physical distance and wear facial coverings.
This means that the usual greetings – hugging, handshakes and kissing – are a no go, and so are other verbal and nonverbal gestures. The nonverbal part is particularly interesting because it doesn’t use the language we speak, relying on body language instead. Has our body language changed, too?
It would appear so. For starters, our facial expressions are obscured. That gives eye contact with a whole new meaning and one that is not natural or easy to understand. These signs are also the core of human communication and often more important than the language we use because they speak volumes about the person’s emotions.
Touch also falls under nonverbal communication. While normally we would be able to read the subtle signs behind these gestures, now we are unable to do so.
1. Relaxed Environment
All these reasons have made us try to find substitutes, according to Tricia Jones, a professor at the Klein College of Media and Communication, who specializes in nonverbal communication. She adds that sometimes these gestures are “cute and entertaining. But they’re also always sending the message that this is artificial.”
Have we become artificial beings?
Not quite. Even if physical contact has changed, people are still communicating online in the same manner they always had. It is a well-known fact that, for most people, the liberty to communicate with others at their own leisure from the comfort of their home (or any other place they find convenient) is what makes them relaxed.
2. New Communication Norms
Because people now must find different ways to express themselves nonverbally, they have become developing new norms. For example, running away from the neighbor met in the supermarket would be considered rude, no matter the circumstances. But stopping at a recommended distance and greeting the neighbor sends a completely different message. We are still willing to communicate – just under different rules.
Some experts argue that younger people may come to adopt these new communication norms even after the pandemic. After all, it’s what we learn when we’re young that we build on later down the road.
3. “The New Normal” Is Actually Not so New
While these new norms are all alien to the “western world,” people hailing from numerous Asian countries actually behave this way on a regular basis.
Take Japan as an example. It is considered rude in Japan not to wear a face mask when feeling unwell. It is considered plain disrespectful to others.
Since learning is always beneficial, we might argue that the pandemic will actually teach us to be more respectful toward others. In a sense, we are communicating by incorporating the etiquette of older cultures.
4. Drop That Mobile Phone and Communicate!
We have witnessed a huge surge in artificial communication, primarily in younger generations who appear to be glued to their mobile devices. While there’s no arguing that technology is there to help us improve our lives, it ceases to be beneficial when we serve it rather than the other way around.
Take a look at a random family meeting. If at least half of those present aren’t staring at their screens, the meeting might actually be considered successful. Plainly put, technology has made us estranged. What was once considered normal, communication-wise, is nowadays becoming completely obsolete.
The problem is way deeper than it appears at first. People are forgetting how to communicate, which in the long run spells disaster on all levels. Imagine teamwork among a group of “robots” and dating in the world of artificial communication. Not good!
5. People in the Same Boat Feel More Connected
Human psychology is an ugly thing more often than not, but one good thing we have learned during the pandemic is that we’re all in the same boat. Suddenly, everyone has remembered that we are all human and, consequently, are equally subject to the threat.
No matter what propaganda tells you, that state of affairs is – normal. Rather than building bridges and drawing imaginary boundaries, we should learn from one another – not judge other cultures based on our differences.
I’d even go as far as to argue that this point is the most important lesson we have learned during the pandemic. It would be nice if we could keep that mindset after the danger has passed.
6. Meaningful Conversations
Once the initial panic somewhat abated, people have begun leading meaningful conversations. It’s true that when faced with existential danger, people begin to reconsider their values. This point has been proven in numerous psychological studies, and we have learned it first-hand.
Because the majority of people keep in touch via online meetings (and most people are also bored out of their wits due to the lockdown), online meetings have become not only more meaningful but also more entertaining.
We’ve seen examples of online birthday parties, various themed gatherings, karaoke meetups… Seriously, when would you do this live?
People are social beings and that isn’t going to change… ever. Times may (and will) change, and communication may take different guises, but we’re still going to participate.
Every occurrence is a lesson, and this lesson we’ve been living for a while now has taught us a thing or two about empathy and alternative means of communication. It would be nice if we would keep that wisdom in the future.
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