We’ve spent 18-months relying on virtual communication – but is it too much now? One writer shares the impact of starting to make face-to-face memories again…
The shift started before the pandemic, to be fair.
Up until my mid-20s, I was a stereotypical extrovert who considered a night in a night wasted. I prided myself on my ability to juggle multiple social groups, my diary was often packed months in advance, and I saw my flat as a place to sleep, shower and change outfits, rather than somewhere to spend any significant time.
Somewhere around 2019, though, I began to change. I’d accepted a big promotion at work, and found myself craving peaceful nights in before hectic, high-pressure days. I also fell in love, and suddenly understood why my coupled-up friends could happily spend evenings on the sofa.
When the pandemic hit and I started working from my kitchen table – something I’m still doing now – my evolution into a homebody was complete. I can’t say I relished the lockdowns, but they taught me that I now genuinely enjoy my own company, and find real pleasure in simply pottering around my flat.
Lately, though, I’ve found myself cancelling in-person plans and catching up with friends over WhatsApp or FaceTime instead – not because I’m exhausted, but because I simply can’t be bothered to shower and force myself out into the real world. And that feels like a problem.
I don’t want to return to the manic socialising schedule of my early 20s: to paraphrase Chandler Bing, I’m now 29 years old, damnit, and sometimes I want to watch TV and go to bed at a reasonable hour. But I do feel the need to push myself out of my cosy comfort zone and start making long-lasting memories with my friends again.
Because let’s be honest – no matter how hilarious they can be, I’m probably not going to remember all those voice-noted conversations when I’m old and grey. So with that in mind, I challenged myself to book in some IRL catch-ups and embrace a life lived wide open for a week. Here’s what I learned…
1. Don’t let the day of the week stop you getting a boost
On Tuesday night, I arrange to meet some uni friends for dinner at our favourite Korean restaurant in Waterloo. Typically I leave my socialising to the latter half of the week and after a particularly stressful day, I’d rather collapse in front of Netflix than navigate the Northern line – but I make myself leave the flat.
Once we’re squeezed around the table, ordering kimchi, Korean dumplings and pickled radishes to share, I’m so glad I made the effort.
Being surrounded by my best friends is invigorating, and I’ve soon forgotten that at 6pm I was feeling tired and reclusive. I even call over the waiter to take a group photo of us – not because it’s a particularly special or glamorous occasion, but because I’ve realised how precious these casual dinners are. Older siblings and colleagues have warned me that it’s harder to maintain a spontaneous social life once your friends start having kids, and now we’re all turning 30, that stage of life feels closer than ever.
I need to treasure these low-key yet lovely weekday evenings while I can, and remember that no matter how worn-out I feel, I rarely regret spending quality time with close friends. When I get home, I decide to set myself a goal to take photos of everything I do with friends this week, to print from my phone later via my instax Link WIDE printer and pop them in my room as a reminder of how good it feels to spend time with others.
2. Sober fun is just as good as booze-fuelled fun…
I’m trying to drink more mindfully at the moment, which means finding ways to socialise that don’t revolve around alcohol. A late-night gallery trip is an excellent sober alternative to the pub, so on Thursday I meet Alex at the new Wes Anderson exhibition at 180 The Strand. Alex and I struck up a friendship at my last job – she’s one of my favourite ever colleagues.
The exhibition is open until 9pm, and features loads of the original sets, props, costumes and artwork from Anderson’s new film The French Dispatch. There’s even a mocked-up café where you can enjoy old-school French drinks and snacks. Alex and I catch up over tiny cakes, I take a gorgeous photo of her against the yellow walls of the fake bistro, and – blissfully – I’m in bed by 11pm. An important reminder that I really don’t need to drink to have a good time.
3. …But a well-chosen Big Night Out is a joyous thing
OK, so I don’t need booze to have fun. But I do still love a Big Night Out – and there are few better places in London for a ridiculously silly BNO than Rowan’s Tenpin Bowl in Finsbury Park. An enormous American-style bowling alley, snooker club and arcade spread over two floors, it also hosts full-blown weekend dance parties that go on until 1.30am.
So on Friday night, I round up Jaz, Kiara and Sophie, three of my closest girlfriends, and we head off to north London. It’s a surprisingly mild evening, and the city is absolutely fizzing with energy; it feels incredible to be out and about. I take a brilliantly retro photo of my mates dancing in front of the bowling lanes, and I know instantly that it’s one I’ll treasure forever. The hangover the next day is entirely worth it.
4. You don’t have to spend loads of money to make memories
My partner, who I live with, was one of the 1 million people in the UK who were made redundant between April 2020 and June 2021. He’s now got a new job, but I’ve struggled to shake off my financial anxiety.
I’m definitely more cautious with money than I was pre-pandemic, which has made me more hesitant about social plans (particularly in London, where it often feels like you have to spend £10 just to leave the house).
But I can create beautiful memories without maxing out my credit card. On Saturday afternoon, I cycle to the Horniman Museum in south London to meet Henry, one of my best friends from school. We WhatsApp all the time, but I haven’t actually seen him since June.
We stroll around the eccentric free exhibits (the overstuffed taxidermy walrus is my favourite) before walking around the gardens in the autumn sunshine.
The museum’s vantage point on top of a hill offers spectacular views across London, so we take a selfie with the city glimmering behind us. Henry updates me on his hectic job and the new guy he’s just started dating, I fill him in on my family dramas, and we discuss Squid Game in intense detail. I realise just how much I’ve missed him – and appreciate that even if we haven’t seen each other in a while, we always pick up where we left off.
5. Physical photos are excellent mementoes
On Sunday, I print out the best photos I took all week using my instax Link WIDE printer. This sleek little device connects to my phone via Bluetooth, and prints out photos from my camera roll on old-school instant film. Even better, the instax Link WIDE app lets me adjust the brightness, saturation, contrast and colour tone of photos before printing.
I’m already feeling warm and fuzzy thanks to my sustained bout of socialising, but there’s something about holding physical photos in my hands that makes the images even more special. Because getting physical mail through the letterbox feels similarly exciting, I decide to post printed photos to Alex, Jaz, Kiara, Sophie and Henry – adding in voice notes and messages via QR codes to tell them how much our hangouts mean to me.
Embracing real-world experiences over digital communication has reminded me that even casual dinners and random Friday nights are worth remembering. And printing out these photos feels like a commitment to looking back on these moments in years to come, rather than letting them disappear into the mists of time.
There’s nothing wrong with spending time alone – but it’s time spent with friends that makes the most meaningful memories.
The instax Link WIDE is the first WIDE format film printer available and offers new ways to give your photos to your loved ones straight from your phone.
Not only can you choose what to print from your smartphone, you can print from video, choose a colour mode (rich or natural), collage your images, or add stickers and text to personalise the print. Add a QR code to your image before printing - use this to add a sound clip, a weblink, a secret message or a location to your WIDE print.