Catherine Lanser shares her reflections on digital and virtual communications with family and coworkers during the COVID-19 pandemic and Safer at Home orders. This story was recorded as part of the Madison podcast Inside Stories. Listen to the full episode and subscribe to the podcast here: https://inside-stories.simplecast.com/episodes/inside-stories-covid-19-5
Narrator Name: Catherine Lanser
Interviewer Name: n/a
Date of interview: 5/4/2020
Catherine Lanser: It has been three or four weeks since I and most others I know have been isolated at home in the hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19. At least I think so. Even as the sun keeps rising and setting, I, like most people, have lost all sense of time. But I can’t figure out why. I worked at home for nearly three years. My normal work outfit is yoga pants, a T-shirt, and sweatshirt. My office is down the stairs. I talk to my coworkers only on the phone. They don’t know what I look like, and I don’t know what they look like. And that’s fine. I barely leave the house during a normal week. Yet everything feels different now. I am struggling to concentrate. It is perfectly quiet, but I feel like everyone is screaming.
With everyone in the same situation, the amount of virtual communication from my family has increased. My family has been texting on a group text that includes all my siblings and in-laws. I have seven siblings, many who are married, so at times, it is hard to keep up with the many threads of conversations as they unfold. Over-stimulated by the constant notifications, I put my phone on silent and put it in the other room to charge while watching a movie the other night. When I picked it up a few hours later, I saw I had missed twenty-six texts. In normal life, this would have signified that something really bad had happened. But not during this pandemicWhen I looked at the thread, I was greeted with photos of Saturday night cuddling, sitting and watching movies, and a few jokey back and forth about who hadn’t shaved in the last week.
Emails have also increased exponentially. The email pulse has changed slightly from the first days when we were still trying to imagine how COVID-19 would impact the USA. Then it seemed every company I had ever done business with was telling me how they were responding to the pandemic. Those emails came from big names and big brands like Best Buy, Target, and Sprint. It seemed to me that they were covering their tracks. Next, I got emails from people who had my email that I actually knew—my dentist, my hairstylist, and events that I wanted to go to that had been cancelled. But after that, the next wave seemed to be all about staying calm. It seemed everyone else I had given my email to wanted to let me know how they could help me stay calm and relaxed during the time of COVID.
And then, of course, came the invitations to meetings. Whether via conference call or webinar (who hasn’t heard of Zoom by now?), I’ve also received my fair share of invitations from meetings to connect during this time, whether it be to set aside time to write together or learn a new skill. I’ve had a hard time keeping up with all the invitations.
The next evolution has been face-to-face communication, albeit virtual. People are having happy hours via Zoom. My sister-in-law recommended [it?] to my family, though it hasn’t happened yet. On my previously audio-only work calls, I started to see the faces of my coworkers from across the country I had not seen in three years. Since not everyone has worked at home regularly, my company wanted to make sure those who didn’t felt connected now. So now, I’m combing my hair and wearing better T-shirts. Maybe I’ll wear makeup next.
I understand the need for people to connect. I understand that before we were all at home, that some people did go out into the world every day. For them, this time is especially hard. But for someone who has been isolated for so long, all this connecting, even virtual, is just as hard. I feel anxious and scattered in a way I didn’t when I was the only one who stayed at home. Surprisingly, I think I feel the same way people who are longing for connection feel. I’m longing for a return to normal.