Process Post #1
The COVID-19 pandemic certainly makes talking to strangers face-to-face a more daunting task than it’s ever been, for obvious reasons. Not necessarily because it’s more awkward than it’s ever been, but that personal space is something that needs to be given extra respect in 2020.
I’ve never really had any issues talking to strangers, which is somewhat contradictory to the fact that I have mild social anxiety, but the better I tend to know someone, the greater my worries of having said or done something odd. When I talk to strangers, on the other hand, I know that even in the worst case scenario where I really do embarrass myself with my words or actions, I likely won’t ever see them again. In other words, there’s nothing to live down.
If I’ve met a person for the second time, or know for a fact that I’ll be seeing them again beyond our first meeting, I pretty much automatically consider them “known,” and I’m more on guard. I don’t mind so much if a complete stranger finds me to be odd or doesn’t like me, but as soon as they’ve passed the threshold into “known,” I start dissecting my every word and move. I start wondering and judging how I sounded when I talked to them, how I might’ve looked, my choice of words, and so on.
As a result, my online persona is entirely different. I mostly frequent Twitter when it comes to social media, as this is a space where I can consume and discuss news with like-minded people. Over the last decade, I’ve been talking Canucks hockey, Blue Jays baseball, tennis and other sports with hundreds or thousands of sports fans.
Despite the fact that our online posts can theoretically be permanent (even if we delete them, they could be screencapped and kept forever), I feel a tremendous sense of relief not having to worry about my appearance or tone online. I can hide behind an avatar that isn’t me, and I have all the time in the world to think about what I want to say before I hit post.
In the COVID era, I would say I am more nervous or at least apprehensive in my physical encounters with strangers, thanks in large part to face masks. I just returned from two weeks in Alberta where it’s a provincial mandate to wear masks in all public indoor spaces, and even outdoors it seems more people have them on than not.
Things are a little more relaxed here in Vancouver, which is perhaps more concerning from a health perspective, but I have to say one of the advantages to this is being able to read people’s facial expressions. Over the past few months, I couldn’t even tell you the amount of times that I’ve smiled at a stranger––in the grocery store, on the street, in the shopping mall––and realized they have no idea that I’m smiling at them. Instead I’m just some guy in a mask who’s staring directly at them.
Between the lack of facial expressions and the need for physical distancing, I think stranger encounters are more challenging today than ever before. In this week’s reading from James Hablin, I found the introduction about Erving Goffman’s 1963 elevator study to be particularly interesting with respect to the general “rule” that people gave a brief visual notice or glance of other passengers before withdrawing their attention. Maybe it’s just me being overly analytical, but I feel like this rule is especially prevalent today, where even an extended glance or multiple glances at a person (especially in a smaller indoor space) are almost frowned upon, as though COVID could be transmitted through our vision alone.
One thing I know is I’m thankful for social media and the opportunity to continue forming our online personas d