July 5, 2020

Amplify: Finding new forms of connection in social isolation
In this issue of Amplify, guest editor Meredith Wilson-Smith explores how online relationships have become deeply meaningful

Lately, I’ve started the day with a man in a bow tie serenading me through my computer screen. The tune is almost always Taylor Swift, but the lyrics range from logic jokes to the importance of discipline.

The singing man in question is Teacher Ged, one of the virtual instructors I’ve been following for the last few months as I study for my Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Before I start work every day as a summer content editor for The Globe, I log two to four hours of quality time with a wide cast of instructors through pre-recorded lessons online.

I’ve never met any of my LSAT tutors, but I feel like I know them.

I smile when Joe calls me (and thousands of other viewers) “future lawyer” and cringe when Bob’s dog barks midclass. Hannah’s relentless optimism annoyed me at first, but now I catch myself nodding at my laptop when she says she believes in me.

I’ve been so busy focusing on the people teaching me logic games and speed-reading that I’ve forgotten to dread the studying itself. My emotional attachment to my pre-recorded instructors may be embarrassing, but it’s motivated me during a stressful period that limits motivation enough as is.

Story continues below advertisement
“Humans have this dire need to connect,” neuroscientist James Coan says in The New Yorker. “Our brains have learned from brutal evolutionary lessons that social isolation is a death sentence.”

In trying times, we take the connections we can get. While I’m bonding with LSAT instructors, some people are reaching out to their exes in search of a connection, as Zosia Bielski explores in The Globe. It’s easy to understand why. It’s lonely to forgo interacting with friends, co-workers and family members (though I would cheerfully go without ever joining another Zoom cocktail hour).

In an April opinion piece in The Globe, high school student Noa Roxborough summed it up: “I think I speak for many when I say it is an isolating and scary experience being disconnected from our lives in so many ways. I’m living my life online, lonely and aching for normalcy again.”

When I was trapped inside at the pandemic’s snowy start, I relied on Yoga With Adriene’s YouTube challenges for physical activity and daily structure. I’m not alone: The New Yorker’s Naomi Fry says of Adriene’s channel, “Coming to the mat for a few minutes each day provides a sense of structure and routine that’s otherwise missing in our current shapeless reality.”

But more than those practical benefits, I looked forward to hearing Adriene’s soothing voice and seeing her dog Benji every day, in the same way you’d look forward to seeing a friend. I even recommended the channel – high praise, for someone who’s known for her lack of athleticism – to all of my (real) friends. I wanted to share something that brought me comfort with the people I loved but couldn’t see in person.

The same goes for the show Schitt’s Creek, which I binged with my parents every night when I first moved home from university. I became mildly obsessed with the comfort the show delivers, full of sweet moments and resolvable conflict. I watched every cast interview on the internet and caught myself talking about the characters like they were real people.

It feels silly to lean into these online bonds when the people you’re connecting with have no idea who you are. Right now, though, we’re all inundated with sad, scary news. FaceTime happy hours alone don’t help with these feelings of pandemic isolation.

In Vox, psychiatrist and organizational behaviour professor Gianpiero Petriglieri explains, “Every time you connect to a Zoom call, you are having two experiences at the same time: the experience of reaching, and the experience of what you’ve lost.” You can’t hug the people you call, or sit in comfortable silence with them. That’s why I’ve turned to online comforts that feel like a hug without requiring much effort: yoga, sitcoms and cooking channels.

Despite missing our traditional support networks, we’re still expected to carry on with our responsibilities and commitments.

Now, when I need to study for the standardized test that defines my future, I can’t sit down with a classmate or a tutor. I have to trust that the teachers on my screen have all the answers and believe in my abilities. That calms me down enough to motivate me.

It may be silly to care about Teacher Bob’s pets and Teacher Chris’s kids when I’ve never met them, and I’m very over Ged’s singing. But it’s fun to be excited about small things like LSAT puns and favourite instructors. If you’re feeling lonely, there’s something to be said for letting yourself find joy in the channels available to you in your daily routine.

They’re no substitute for face-to-face interaction, but any comfort right now is worth taking.

This is the weekly Amplify newsletter. If you’re reading this on the web or someone forwarded this e-mail newsletter to you, you can sign up for Amplify and all Globe newsletters here.

ICYMI: From the archives
Amplify: Making sense of the world we live in, one article at a time

fizkes/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Amplify: Making sense of the world we live in, one article at a time

Lara Pingue

Full Story
Amplify: In spite of distance, my immigrant family learned to connect from far away


Amplify: In spite of distance, my immigrant family learned to connect from far away

Marieke Walsh

Full Story
Amplify: As an obituaries editor, I see the human toll of COVID-19 from a unique perspective


Amplify: As an obituaries editor, I see the human toll of COVID-19 from a unique perspective

Danielle Adams

Full Story
About this newsletter
The weekly Amplify newsletter inspires and challenges readers by highlighting the voices and insights of women at The Globe and across Canada.

To unsubscribe, use the link at the bottom of every email communication. Or log in to manage your Communication Settings.

Can't log in yet? Registration is free and allows you to read more for free. Tips to stay logged in.