It’s Not Just You—Our Conversations Are Getting Worse Now

Since March, most of the U.S. has switched over to mostly digital communication in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, and it’s impacting our social skills. Chris Segrin is a behavioral scientist, and he says, “Social skills are like athletic skills. If you don’t practice them for a long time, they atrophy.”

He adds that if we could combine digital communication with in-person interactions we’d likely be able to compensate, but since it’s a pandemic we’ve mostly eliminated the in-person part.

The thing is, when we talk with someone in real life it’s much easier to discern their mood, tone, or subtle cues like posture or hand gesture—all things you can’t do, or can’t fully do, via video chat. Sociologist Anthony Campbell adds, “I look at this whole experience as a traumatic event,” he notes that when small talk is possible it often goes back to heavy topics on everyone’s minds: the pandemic, economic hardship, and systemic racism.

It’s difficult to discuss anything else, and all this, combined with the stress of social deprivation has everyone on edge. The good news: the pandemic hasn’t gone on long enough to imprint changes in social behavior like you might see in soldiers or prisoners who are isolated from their loved ones for years at a time.