With several social distancing and quarantine measures put in place to slow down and tackle the spread of COVID-19, it has drastically impacted the way we socialise with others. While some are able to rethink and adapt to new ways of socialisation, others faced the problem of increased social isolation and creating strained familial relationships.
Many have begun relying on digital tools to find entertainment and stay connected to their loved ones. Group activities which many of us have been engaging in prior to the Covid-19 outbreak have since been adapted and shifted online. For example, watching movies with friends in the cinemas have now become watching shows together using Netflix Party, a Google Chrome extension that synchronises screens and is equipped with a group chat option. Having dinner with friends and playing games together online are the innovation solutions for people to socialise remotely. The use of technology to establish an emotional connection with their loved ones has helped to lift the spirits of many. Furthermore, celebrities and other media personalities have continued to engage with their audience by boosting their virtual presence through online performances and discussions. For example, German-based superstar pianist Igor Levitt held 52 ‘virtual concerts’ on Twitter. For many people that are experiencing feelings of boredom and loneliness at home, the continued provision of content and entertainment albeit using new methods generate positivity and hope that everyone will tide through this difficult time together.
However, not everyone in society is able to adapt to these new ways of socialisation. A portion of society, specifically the elderly, bear the brunt of the negative impacts. For the many elderly that live alone, their need for social interaction is normally fulfilled through their family members visiting them, engaging in conversations and activities with other elderly neighbours and volunteer visits. With the restrictions in place, they are deprived of socialisation and companionship. Despite the new ways of socialising and getting entertainment, they are only possible with the use of technology. For the elderly that are mostly not tech-savvy, their opportunities to interact and socialise becomes severely limited and thus the risk of experiencing social isolation and loneliness is much higher than young individuals. An article was published in medical journal The Lancet provided recommendations on actions to mitigate the mental consequences for the elderly due to social distancing measures. If advice and recommendations like these are not adopted, the prolonged social distancing will increase the risk of social isolation and loneliness for the vulnerable group of elderly.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also affected the existing relationship of people with their family. With measures such as closure of schools and working from home, many people stay at home for a prolonged period of time with their family members in close quarters. For some, problems such as poor communication, lack of personal space and escalation of conflicts have resulted in unresolvable tension between married couples. Countries such as China have reported record-high numbers of divorce filing during this period. Countries like Singapore have been experiencing an increase in domestic violence cases. The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) said it received 619 inquiries in March 2020, a 35 percent jump from March last year. Thus, the measures put in place to contain the virus have inadvertently tested and strained the familial relationships of many.
Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic has produced both positive and negative impacts on social interaction in society. We must remain optimistic and hope for the negative impacts to be resolved once social distancing measures begin to ease. However, until a vaccine is created, the way we interact with others will not be the same as how it was pre-covid. Therefore, we have to constantly adapt and find new ways to build and maintain social interactions with others.
By Simon Ng