Virtual meetings… virtual friends… virtual connections… this virtual life we’re living through screens, FaceTime, text, Zoom… I’m over it.

During my three-year stint in Cleveland from 2016 through 2019, one of the things I found myself missing about New York was the people, the density. I craved the physical proximity and connection to others. So I moved back… right in time for the pandemic. Within seven weeks of returning to New York, we were thrown into quarantine and a new, unprecedented period of isolation. 

Thanks to technology and social media, I was able to stay connected to family and friends and had the opportunity to make new connections with some incredible people. New friends and connections are really a gift, and I’m grateful for them. Under the bizarre and dire circumstances, these virtual connections were lifesavers. 

But now, as we maybe/kinda/sorta might be seeing real light at the end of a dark tunnel, barring the threat of anti-vaxxers and variants of concern, things are opening up in a real way, in a way. And still, the isolation, the fear of gathering, nervousness about stepping out, the loneliness… all still linger. And many of the people to whom technology has connected me are… well… somewhere else, literally. 

Over the pandemic, people have invested more than ever in their homes, tricking out their caves with new TVs, upgraded sound systems and comfy furniture on which to enjoy their ultra HD entertainment. Instead of going to the office, attending real meetings or going into an actual studio to appear on a show or podcast, we’ve invested in ring lights so we don’t have to leave the house. Ever. 

And now we’re getting bludgeoned with the idea of the metaverse, keeping us even more invested in virtual connections instead of real ones. Another win for tech and another loss for those of us who might be interested in actually touching another person or sharing an experience in real space and time. Connected, but apart.

On some podcasts and shows I like – many of which sound like they were recorded with an iPhone 3 in a public bathroom stall because no one’s going into professional studios anymore – I’ve heard many people talk about how they cringe at the idea of putting on nice clothes and actually going out, preferring to stay home in their sweatpants. Is this where we are?

When I guest co-hosted the Pivot podcast with Kara Swisher back in September, we talked about the decline in movie theater attendance against the growing preference of watching movies at home. Kara is more fine with it than I am, and I suggested that the stay-at-home option is certainly more preferable to people who have already paired off. But for those of us who are still alone, craving a connection to other people, the situation is less than ideal.

I’ve not been fortunate enough to make a meaningful, lasting, intimate connection to someone I really like. It is what it is. Now that everyone is staying at home, connecting virtually or judging us by our professional, social or dating profiles as opposed to meeting in person, the odds for some – especially those of us who present better in person – seem to be worsening. 

New technological advances in communication and immersive virtual experiences may promise more connection, but I’m not feeling it. In fact, I’m already bored with it and feeling rather disconnected. But with the way things seem to be headed, I should probably just shut the fuck up, accept it, get used to it and adapt. 

I can say with rigorous honesty that I have tried. I’ve extended myself with that good old “Let’s get together” effort, but to little avail, with some exceptions. In general, it just seems like a lot of people, for whatever reason, would rather not. 

Maybe this is it. Maybe the best I can expect is to continue connecting through texts, FaceTime, Zoom, social media and other virtual venues. Maybe peak joy in connecting will devolve into getting a notification that someone sent me a message or that more strangers followed me and liked my posts on Instagram. Perhaps I should adjust my expectations and accept that that’s as good as it’s gonna get. Yikes.

For a recent episode of Pivot, I was asked to give my predictions for 2022. For some reason, I thought about the 2008 Pixar movie WALL•E and the future it suggested. Aside from the bleak environmental and sustainability disasters depicted in the film, what sticks with me most is a future in which human interaction and social skills have atrophied to the point where people live in their devices, squeeze into adult-sized stretch onesies, slurp from sippy cups and have lost the ability to meaningfully connect with one another or have any real intimacy. But WALL•E is just an animated kids movie. A fantasy. It couldn’t possibly be realistic. Right? Certainly not. 

In the meantime, while so many have defected to Long Island, a place in the country or Florida, you can find me holding my own – on my own – in the city. And if I don’t see you here, we’ll catch up on Twitter, Instagram or TikTok. 

TTYL.

3 Comments

  1. I hear you, loud and clear, in your voice in my head, almost as though through my phone, where is where you are “housed” for the most part, for me (“fer mee”), although I have indeed had the flailing delight of bumping into you twice this summer as you were LIVE for a Morning Walk.

    I, too, am not paired off and here in the city, on the Upper West Side (a hop, skip, and poorly executed pirouette from The Beacon Theater and Fairway, or The Fairway as I like to call it), dressed to the nines even if to dash to the marvelous bodega at 72nd and West End (the “Superette!”), in a dismal sea of shabby yoga pants, shiny basketball shorts, and sloppy sweatpants, giving a damn what I look like no matter what because I’m vain as fuck and it’s never going to change and never changed even when I *was* “paired off” lo so many years ago (it’s been a literal decade).

    I refuse to devolve into a sippy-cup-totin’, lazy-pants-wearin’, metaverse-relatin’ zombie like the horrifying majority of people here in our fair city. I will continue keeping my head up and out of my phone, texting on the street (off to the side!) only for logistics and a brief “Where are you? WHICH corner?”), making eye contact, actually speaking to people, making human connections however brief, because I refuse to march to the beat of that dumbed-down tom-tom.

    So, hey, if you ever want to grab a movie at The Paris with a neighbor who won’t fucking talk during the movie, who steps out in style, who shares your disdain for oh so many things, who apologizes to the horses paid to haul around tourists and curses the helicopters, let me know. I’ve got a raised eyebrow that would stir envy even in Joan Crawford.

  2. Michelle Brock Reply

    This is so true George, so much has changed and I wonder how much of it is for good? ~Funny enough I also thought of WALL-E with regard to the future! Here’s hoping for more connection – the real kind. Hoping you have a wonderful weekend filled with surprising, serendipitous moments!

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