‘Are you seriously telling me you would rather meet up on Zoom than in reality?’ I asked a friend as we got stuck into an argument about the future of our existence.
‘Well, it’s all we’ve got,’ he argued. No, it really isn’t. But how to explain to people who refuse to stop being locked down that lockdown is, to all intents and purposes, over?
I get the distinct impression that a lot of people have so thoroughly enjoyed sitting on their backsides doing nothing — sorry, I mean finding themselves and getting in touch with their inner child and being close to nature — that they don’t want it to end, ever.
I have one girlfriend who has built so many ‘bug hotels’ in her garden it’s like the Las Vegas strip for insects, although I shouldn’t cast aspersions because I did construct a toad plunge pool in my garden a few weeks in. But I like to think I then got a grip and realised lockdown was hateful.
She, on the other hand, bought into the idea that what we are up to in our leisure-filled days of working from home (using the term work in the post-lockdown sense which is to say not working much at all) is as good and as worthwhile as if we were contributing properly to the economy. This is clearly nonsense and will be proved so when the economy collapses in a few months’ time, unless everyone goes back to work. Will the bugs be happy when her house is repossessed? I suppose they will.
The other problem is that people have started to believe that living on screen is reality. It looks like reality, but it doesn’t feel like reality, not to me anyway.
Every Friday night during lockdown a group of us have met up on Zoom. While we couldn’t get out, we thought it might be nice to stay in touch. Sure, I thought, why not?
The first time we did it I was glad to see my friends. The second time I found it tedious squinting into the screen, worrying about my uncoloured hair and my face looking bloated unless I tilted the laptop a certain way.
The third time, I spent the entire hour and a half worrying about the fact that what I looked like was not what I thought I looked like until I entered an existential depression that lasted for days.
One time I could hear clanking until someone said: ‘I’m just emptying the dishwasher!’ Another time one of our number was lying in bed. A week or two later I was lying in bed. Really? Is this life now?
But aside from the sloth, slobbery and lack of etiquette, the main problem with online socialising is that the feeling is missing. You can see and hear your friends, but you can’t connect to them, not really, because a person is more than what they look and sound like. They have something inside of them that only comes out when you are physically near them. And that is the only reason you want to meet with them in the first place. Without that feeling, you just power through like any other chore. Why not empty the dishwasher at the same time?
I had hoped this nonsense would end the second I bolted out the door and ran around the shops and cafés having any experience available.
But not everyone agrees. A lot of people seem to be hell-bent on isolating until we find a cure for death. Most want to continue working from home.
Many of the friends I would like to meet now that we are able to say they want to go on Zooming. I told them they would have to do it without me. I cannot think of anything worse than spending Friday night staring into a laptop screen if I don’t have to. ‘You’re all mad. You’ve gone down a rabbit hole,’ I ranted at one of them.
I named this column Real life partly because I was scared about the prospect of our lives becoming virtual at a time when that trend was in its infancy. Shopping, dating and banking had gone online. Now it’s working and socialising. People are sitting in their gardens barking into their laptops instead of going to the office, then popping the cork on a bottle and Zooming their friends from the same patio table. It’s the same experience they’re having over and over if only they could realise it.
‘I’m going on a spiritual retreat,’ said a girlfriend the other day. It was on Zoom. Of course it was. She did it in her living room. The retreat element of the exercise was a moot point because she’s already in retreat. We all are, unless we decide otherwise.