One of the defining aspects of 2020 has been the temporary halt to everyday communities and means of connection. Almost as soon as the pandemic began and isolation began, online communities and meetups began to fill part of the void left by the lockdown.
Among these sources of online community is the Interintellect(I.I), an online community of curious, optimistic people seeking in-depth and intellectual discourse. Though the group began as a way for these people to meet in small face-to-face meetups, or ‘salons’, the I.I transitioned to socially-distanced gatherings with aplomb. In fact, it is due to this transition that I was even able to join in the first place and be able to interact with the community. As most of the group is based in the United States and Europe, very few members were from Australia, and certainly not enough here in Adelaide to run a salon of my own. I was fortunate to be able to join this community right as the Coronavirus pandemic started to take effect. Through the ups and downs of the last few months, groups such as the I.I have been a means of keeping socially connected in some capacity and providing a source of optimism and hope during moments of despair.
On the I.I Medium page, Alex Yao, a member of the community wrote an article, ‘You’re Part of History Now’ on a similar topic. He details how niche online groups such as the I.I as well as groups on mainstream platforms such as Twitter and Facebook collaborated to support one another during the early stages of the pandemic, providing medical advice as well as support through various distressing circumstances related to the pandemic.
As useful as these online communities have been, they are not a full substitution for face-to-face interaction, even for the most introverted and socially anxious among us. As great as being able to talk to people across the world on Zoom is, it’s also quite taxing in a number of ways. It’s a way of communication that we are not used to, and requires sustained attention in a way that is unusual compared to other ways of communication. Zoom Fatigue is an increasingly-reported issue among people frequently using video calling software.
Aside from issues with Zoom fatigue, the mental and physical health issues associated with being socially distanced and isolated are numerous. Countless studies can be cited to prove this fact. Yet, it doesn’t take a peer-reviewed study to be able to recognize the extent to which this has affected people, myself included. Despite this, the flexibility that online spaces have provided in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic and will continue to provide have been of considerable benefit. Consider the advances made towards working from home. The pandemic has accelerated the movement and opened up opportunities, particularly in sectors such as IT which weren’t there previously.
If we take no other lessons from the last few months of lockdown, let the one we do take be the importance of community and connection. While we all, of course, lead busy lives with many competing priorities, the extent to which social connections and a sense of community have been reduced and minimized in modern society should be even clearer. A rebalancing is required, and we should aim to place a higher value on community and connection going forward, whether it be online or in face-to-face settings.