Author: Ximena Díaz Alarcón, current PhD Candidate in Sociology (UCA – Universidad Católica Argentina). You can contact her at email@example.com.
Fieldsite: In strict lockdown in Buenos Aires, Argentina, connecting with informants digitally.
As we enter almost our 90th day or quarantine in Buenos Aires, one thing is clear: one of the things people miss the most is spending face to face time with each other.
In the interviews I held with adult and teenage informants during these past weeks, the most tiring aspect of the lockdown (besides going shopping and having to disinfect products when back home) was not being able to see their partners, friends and extended family during this time.
Many strategies were put into place: from Zoom meetings with friends to Zoom dance-outs and afterparties in private mode later on Instagram, to phone sex with boyfriends or girlfriends or simple phone calls, sharing information and memes via Whatsapp, Facetiming or Skyping with grandparents. There have also been Zoom birthday parties and remote romantic nights seeing the same movie via Netflix party in two different houses. Divorced ex-couples living together again to avoid going back and forth with their kids from house to house recently formed couples that decide to live together or to stop seeing each other because pandemic logistics was perhaps too much stress for the time being. There have been many ways to cope with being together while being apart, or definitely deciding to stay apart.
In that regard, digital media and platforms were the media of choice to keep in touch with significant other during these long weeks. The choice of media was dictated by different factors from expertise in previous use to features that allowed for more privacy, fun or communal sharing. The choice depended upon the main objective of the meeting (work- related, family or friend- related matters). One of my young adult informants told me that she had a realisation at the beginning of the lockdown:
“I began to realize that I really cared about not sooooo many people, that I was concerned about not so many people as I would have thought beforehand and decided only to check on those I really wanted to know about. Lockdown was a reality check for me”.
The renowned Argentinean humorist TUTE published a strip in his Facebook page, a very insightful joke were two totally covered people meet in the street and one of them says “Let’s see each other one of these days”. Is face-to-face a guarantee of true social exchange? Is online enough? Will it suffice if lockdown goes on even longer?
As one of my informants told me while chatting online:
“They say that when you have Corona, you lose the sense of smell and taste. We all already lost the sense of touch, since we can’t be close to each other or hug each other. I have been having strange dreams lately and, in my dreams, I have started to picture people being socially distant and wearing face masks. Last night I woke up and thought that THAT is really the new abnormal: when you know even in your dreams that is dangerous to be close to someone”.
At the end of the day, and in spite of all the screens and zoom time that allow us at least to be in contact, we seem to be missing a deeper connection with others: real-life kisses and hugs, where you don’t have to “unmute” to express emotions.