My family and I migrated to Melbourne many many years ago, leaving a large community of uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, coworkers, church community and friends in Hong Kong. Building and sustaining connection has involved many flights, countless video calls and a steady stream of messages in multiple group chats. Never had I imagined that these largely digital ways would come in handy with talking to my local community amidst all that is being done to flatten the curve against the COVID-19. However, there are some surprising joys and not so surprising dangers that will come with building community online.
Let me begin by saying that nothing, and I mean nothing, can replace the connection one human being has with another when they occupy physical space together. Whether that’s gathered in large crowds at a Coldplay concert or sitting across from one another at their favourite restaurant, we are inherently wired for community which addresses all our senses.
Same same but different
As I am writing this, my cousins have just pinged me on Whatsapp photos of their ‘work from home’ set up. Some of us have double screens. Some of us have stray mugs everywhere (guilty). All of us have clearly been shopping at IKEA. Over the coming days, you may find yourself yearning for some friendly office banter or those trips to the printer to pick up a freshly printed meme you just made. Share photos of your work from home set up with others. Organise a 3pm coffee with someone and take the video call in the garden or your favourite corner in your home. Continue to share memes.
Less small talk
When COVID-19 began affecting the lives of Hong Kong residents, my family and I wasted no time in keeping in contact with our relatives. We shared our own stories of the declared state of disaster as bush fires destroyed parts of our beautiful home state. The thing about uncertainty is that it does unify us around a common point: loss of control and needing to rely on one another. Keep a healthy dose of banter with friends from work, but be sure to check in and have deeper conversations about how people are going. Be prepared to share your own experiences too.
Creativity and imagination increases
This point may only resonate with some. I am a words person so I naturally hang more weight on people’s words (whether in a novel, an email or a text message) anyway. Being geographically distant does not mean a thoughtfully worded message won’t dig deep into your heart. It will. Try it. Also if you are a visual content creator, now is the time to share your art! Tell those stories. We want to hear them. Sincerely, the world.
The next time you meet will be precious time
Not that long ago, my relatives were visiting Melbourne from Hong Kong to celebrate my brother’s wedding. For one week in early January, we enjoyed having our social distance closed for a time. Conversations without having to involve two screens, passing food to each other across the table and going for a stroll down Swanston St towards the National Gallery of Victoria. When the day comes, whenever that may be, we will walk the streets and breathe fresh air together again. May the daily rhythms of life, saying hi to your bus driver, shopping for groceries (not the panic kind) call for greater appreciation of being in the company of somebody else who has many stories to tell.
Distracted attention and compulsive behaviours
There is no surprise that the impact of overusage of social media can lead to some unhealthy, even toxic behaviours, similar to addiction. Digital affirmation can be addictive and I am aware of my own tendency to base my moods on a changing foundation. Be aware, but don’t be afraid. We’re all in this together.
Only looking inward
When our thumbs are typing away on our phones or hands are clattering away on keyboards, it is easy to think that we are at the centre of the control room and thus, our lives. Particularly so as much of our lives are being lived out digitally. Please read the following should the time come, and you find yourself feeling more isolated than ever:
You are more than your digital footprint. You are more than your imagination. You are more than the skin you are in, even as the threat of COVID-19 looms. But to only reach inwards for purpose and answers is more than your soul can bear right now.
Instead. Find a window. Look outside. Look up if you can, towards the sky. All the websites, messaging platforms, Instagram galleries and digital fibres will not fill the void that yearns for answers as to why the earth continues to exist in the age of bush fires and pandemic viruses. And why we are here. But perhaps the most basic point of connection for you and I will bring us the greatest connection: looking for answers as humans in a world thrown into uncertainty. I will happily put the kettle on, make a cuppa, sit down and listen. Explore answers with you. Maybe you’ll invite me to share why Jesus is my biggest hope in all this.
A conversation requires questions. Let’s ask big ones 🙂