Fergus O’Loan is normally our culture writer, writing for our print “What’s On Section”, as well as the web administrator. Sadly theatre has mostly stopped dead in it’s tracks, so Fergus is writing to us about what it means to us all to be together. He can be found on twitter and at his personal blog

Before all this started, I hated video chats.

I hated Skype calls, I hated group calls, I hated even phone calls.

I felt the depth of human expression could not be captured by that little camera on the top of my laptop.

I had a Skype interview for my University application, and I fretted and panicked and generally had a nightmare with it.

Now. Not so much.

Our innate nature is to be together

Humans are social creatures. We’ve always known that, we’ve always said it to each other, but I don’t think we really knew what it meant? Not until we were deprived of it. That sort of ambivalence turns to frustration. On the tube to work or in the queue at the supermarkets. For me, at times, it became a chore. Having to go out, feeling obligated to see people, not really wanting to be there.

But humans really are social creatures. Now, more than ever, I think we realize how important that is. To feel someone else’s touch, hear their voice, just be in their presence. We yearn for it, we need it. It’s not food or water, not shelter; in the hierarchy of needs. We wouldn’t die without it. But we also wouldn’t really be living; not most of us.

We’ve never really appreciated that before, not really. In the past few weeks, I’ve thought what’s the point, I can’t be with anyone, so I’ll be alone, I’ll be an island. The day’s passed by with nothing to mark them, all blending into a mass and a mess. Nothing felt worth doing if I couldn’t tell anyone about it, or engage in another human being with it. As it turns out, no man is an island.

Socializing right now is hard, yes. Be it the technical difficulties, or the bittersweet feeling of hitting the leave meeting or end call button. At times, it’s not easy to keep it up. Difficult to get into the swing of it – at least to begin with.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. If the choice is an imperfect recreation of social interaction, of being together, or none at all, then the imperfect will have to do. For now.

The human spirit of adaptability

And we’re getting better at it. Human’s adapt, it’s what we do. We do what we must because we must. From unique and interesting ways to use these platforms, to just the normalization of sharing a drink at the end of the week with a group of friends over Zoom, we are learning to beat our drums louder, sing our songs stronger, send the smoke signals higher, because we need it.

Sadly, much of my family lives about as far away as they could get; in Australia. I do not. But I’ve seen them more in the last three weeks than I had in the months, years even, prior. And I mean see them, not see their faces on a screen, there’s a difference and we’re learning how to bridge that gap.

I’ve had more conversations with my neighbours than I’ve ever had reason to in the past – about the dumbest things, like what I bought at the shops, or how we like our tea. Zoom calls are becoming vital but that genuine personal connection can still be found in the small things.

I’ve had drinks parties with old friends, I’ve played board games and tabletop games more than I ever thought possible. I’ve watched films in complete silence with my partner two counties away. It was enough to know we’re both in the same “space”. I’ve watched concerts, networked, attended classes, interviewed folks, and little by little, that artificial film of video calling is being peeled off, and I can appreciate the social interaction for what it is, because I have to. And I don’t think I’m the only one; I think we’ve all felt like that, least I hope we have.

We need to be together, however we can

Now, I love video chats. Despite their flaws, I love them, anything to see people, hear their voice, be in their presence, if not feel their touch. And in doing so, I’ve learnt about myself, about interaction and these are lessons I’ll carry once we’ve weathered this storm at last. Once we’re at the end, I’m going to embrace all my friends, and never let them stray again, because I know exactly how much they are worth to me now.

Please, don’t fall into a pattern of isolation, just because we’re self isolating. Reach out to old friends, give a friendly nod or a wave on your way to the shops. Stay safe, follow guidelines, but we can all still be together, even apart, even if it’s just a phone call to catch up. We need each other, now more than ever.

If you ever are in desperate need for someone to talk to, the Samaritans are always available to talk, and are in need of donations right now, so please give to them if you can at spare anything. Consider volunteering if you can’t, they need all the help they can get.

For more helplines see Mind’s collection of them and general breakdown of the different services.

Please, don’t suffer in silence.

‘No Man is an Island’ – John Donne

No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe

is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as

well as any manner of thy friends or of thine

own were; any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.