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Alternatives to Face-to-Face with Loved Ones

04 January 2021

As we see the winter months and COVID-19 lockdown measures continue to converge, face-to-face visits with loved ones are becoming more and more rare—in some circumstances, nearly impossible. Technology has certainly helped to ease the burden of the distance between us, to be sure, but interacting with family and friends exclusively through the lens of a camera just isn’t the same as being with people. But there are ways, both old-fashioned and new hat, to regain some of that magic without the risk of spreading or contracting coronavirus.

The Power of Play

One issue with video conferencing with loved ones is that the interactions can feel pressured or awkward. Sometimes we run out of topics for conversation in relatively short order and then feel obligated to fill the time, which is often scheduled, with impersonal small talk that makes the visit feel more like business than time spent with loved ones. That feeling can be alleviated by playing a game by correspondence—mail, text message, video conference, whatever. Chess is especially suited to this sort of play (there are even different rules available for different sorts of correspondence), but games like Battleship™, Risk™, and Diplomacy™ also have extensive histories in the play-by-correspondence category.

These games are excellent conversation starters for beginners and experienced hands alike, but they also introduce two other important elements to our socially distanced interactions: friendly competition and cognitive exercise. Human beings are naturally competitive—look at how readily we turn mundane activities like cooking and eating into high-profile competitions. That impulse to prove our own mastery doesn’t fade with age or the onset of a pandemic. Nor does the need to exercise our minds as much as circumstance allows; strategic games like chess or Diplomacy™ are great for that, but so are more simplistic ones like Battleship™ or checkers. Anything that gets the logical centers of the brain working is ideal.

The Resurgence of Water Cooler Discussion

There are, of course, more modern ways to share time with loved ones when we can’t be with them in person. Television has been a cornerstone of our culture for decades, and even in the age of streaming services we cherish the shared experience of watching the same movies and TV shows and then discussing/debating what we saw, how it made us feel, and what sorts of reactions it elicited in us. Streaming services are so aware of the value of that shared experience that many of the most prominent have implemented, or are experimenting with, features that allow people in different places to watch and talk about the same thing at the same time. It doesn’t entirely replicate the experience of gathering around a TV to experience popular culture with loved ones, but it’s a close approximation. And, importantly, it opens up opportunities for the same kind of water cooler discussion that many of us have been missing this past year.

Regardless of the strategies you choose to connect with distant loved ones, remember that it’s okay to feel burnt out with the grind of video chats and scheduled time with friends and family. These aren’t regular or ideal ways for us to interact, they’re just necessary for this moment in history. Our lives will return to something we resemble. Until then, adapting as much as possible is best course of action.