A New Wave of Authentic Communication in the Era of Covid-19

A Facebook friend shared a music video with me: “Neil Diamond & Puppies to Put a Smile on your Face.” It’s a charming bit of fluff, photographed outdoors, with Diamond singing and playing an acoustic guitar, and puppies romping in the fields. The pups are a nice touch, though I have the feeling the only reason they’re present is that a producer or someone said, “Hey, if we want a video to go viral, we need kittens or puppies in it.” But what bothered me the most was that Diamond lip-syncs a soundtrack that is obviously studio produced, with particular attention to enhancing his voice. 

Overall, the video is missing authenticity, that special element that says, we’re all human, and we need connections to each other, to nature, and to puppies. Instead, we view Diamond through a technologically managed veil that doesn’t allow us to touch or be touched.

Okay, I’m being very unfair. That video was produced in 2014 – six years and a world away. Back then, life was filled with movement, activities, responsibilities. We were constantly running from here to there and back again. Proud of the long, hard hours we worked, we strove for grueling levels of excellence, holding ourselves and everything around us to a high standard of productivity. Is it any wonder that we expected hard-earned perfection from our entertainment, based on take after take, melded together digitally to create a flawless whole? The Neil Diamond video was appropriate for that time.

But not for today.

Covid-19 has changed so much so quickly. Sheltering in place, hopefully in our own homes or apartments, we’re unable to move about, and for many, unable to work. Some of us are completely alone, though lucky singles like me have a dog or cat or even a bird or snake to keep us company. But for the majority of us who have Internet connections, we’re not truly alone. We are connecting with each other on a deeper, richer level than ever before – and far more frequently. I’m no exception.

I find myself Zooming every day, sometimes more than once, connecting with friends and family, but also with professional peers and business associates. In the mornings, I exercise with my sister-in-law Lee, and we’re often joined by our friend Saroj. It’s an intimate hour that starts our day on a warm positive note. Before, after and even during our aerobics video or yoga or weight training, we share our thoughts and concerns, discuss our plans for the day and support each other. Our friendship has been permanently changed by these exchanges, deepened.

My family Zooms once a week. (And yes, it is now a verb.) In normal times, I’d be lucky to see some of them every couple of months. I haven’t seen the St. Louis contingent in years. Of course, the kids dominate while parents, grandparents and the aunt (me) sit back and smile, and sometimes get a word in edgewise. We take pure pleasure – or for those who know Yiddish, we qvell – just seeing the faces of the people we love,  knowing they’re safe, and being able to share a half hour of unimportant patter while ensconced so many miles away from each other. The time we spend together online is far richer than a phone call or any kind of communication – other than the wished-for, someday-soon in-person gatherings.

Itzak Perlman: a story & some musicEven in my quiet hours, I’m not fully alone. In addition to enjoying videos of plays from Broadway and London, I’m kept company by authors’ readings and musicians performing at home. For instance, Itzhak Perlman epitomizes this new wave of heart-felt communication. He posts periodic short videos on Facebook – just him and his violin. Looking directly into the camera, he shares a short story or personal feelings, then plays a few minutes of music. And we feel uplifted by the very same sense of love that makes Perlman a violin virtuoso.

But it’s not just personal or artistic connections that have become more authentic. Business meetings are often disrupted by a cat jumping on someone’s lap or a child running about in the background. Such personal interruptions would have once been deemed inappropriate but now create a warm moment that we can share with our associates. To use a Yiddish word that says it all, our meetings are becoming menschlichkeit . (Sorry, it isn’t an easy word to translate. It has to do with being a mensch, being a human being, personable, caring, involved, and more than that.)

We’re depending on Zoom and similar videoconferencing services in this time of isolation. As we connect through our screens, we’re allowing not only our friends and family, but business associates, fans and other “strangers” to glimpse who we are behind the public masks we’d carefully crafted. Our pets, our children, our private homes are on display, warts and all. And we’ve become – like the Velveteen Rabbit – real to each other, and to ourselves.

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NOTE: Thank you David Strom and Paul Gillin for mentioning this essay on their FIR B2B podcast.