Keeping friendships in lockdown:“I’m worried relying on voice notes has created fake intimacy”

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Voice notes have been a game-changing way to stay in contact with loved ones during lockdown. But, what happens when you start relying purely on this one-sided style of communication to stay connected? Here, one woman shares why voice notes have eroded the intimacy between her and her best friend.

It’s at times like this that we should be grateful for the technology which allows us to connect with those we can’t physically be with.

My grandparents, who are particularly vulnerable, haven’t felt safe to leave their home since the pandemic hit in March or let any of us come inside to visit them. Being able to do things like sit on the sofa and watch my gran’s face (well, usually more of her nostrils as she holds her iPad upside down) while I chat to her is something we both treasure, and has helped with her feelings of isolation and loneliness at this time. 

But the wider relationship between technology and human interaction isn’t a simple one.

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The question of whether technology actually makes us more disconnected from each other is something that’s been explored for years, but in the first global pandemic that any living generation has experienced, it takes on new gravity. 

Generally speaking, I love a Whatsapp voice note. Speaking on the phone feels very 2008, doesn’t it? As mine and my friend’s lives have become busier, voice notes have enabled us to get that same rush of intimacy from hearing each other’s voices, but at a time which suits us both. 

In lockdown, though, my voice noting activities have ramped up a notch. While usually these mini soliloquies would be interspersed with in-person meetings, they have now become the basis of my relationship with many of my friends. After months of not seeing each other, this form of contact has become the main tie between us.

While long, in-depth voice notes might mean sharing the thoughts, feelings and day-to-day details that make you feel close to someone, the problem is that without ever actually speaking to each other, you miss out on all the chemistry which creates and maintains a bond. 

I hadn’t realised that this was happening to me until a few months ago when I went back to my home town to visit a few of my school friends. Within our group, there is one person in particular that I have stayed incredibly close to. 

Throughout lockdown, we have been swapping voice notes every few days so I expected that when I eventually saw her, our reunion would feel buzzy and full of excitement. Instead, it kind of fell flat.

You would hope that a friendship of more than 10 years would be resilient against not seeing each other for a while. But, because we already knew all the minute details of what had been happening in each other’s lives, that reunion ‘moment’ didn’t quite land. There was no sense of: “oh my god, I’ve missed you so much – we’ve got so much to catch up on.” There was no familiarity of spending quality time together.

While, yes, we had been sharing the struggles of the last few months with each other, there was no real connection in this process. I would listen to her voice notes as I tidied my flat or cooked dinner, a welcome podcast to accompany my day. Then, my monologues to her acted as a type of therapy where I could shout into the void and put my phone down, getting on with something else.

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There was no banter, no personal jokes, no bouncing off each other or spark. Instead, we had created a fake intimacy that felt like closeness but, when I look back, was really self-centred and self-serving. 

It has made me realise just another way in which this pandemic has affected my life. My relationships have been starved of the person-to-person contact they need to thrive, but simply shooting off a voice note clearly isn’t enough to maintain them. 

We’re back in lockdown and it’s probably going to be a long time until I can see my friends in the way I was doing before coronavirus happened. This time has made me realise that I need to schedule in time for catching up that’s reactive.

I don’t think it’s impossible to get real intimacy through a screen, but I do think it takes work. There can be something quite draining about video chats; it feels awkward to be familiar and personal to a laptop in such a static, non-atmospheric environment but I know I’ll only become more comfortable with this if I keep trying. 

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