After a year of online only events, the United States is beginning to actively return to in-person meetings and gatherings. With the tide starting to turn from fully online events to hybrid online/ in-person events it is interesting to see the habits that people have carried over from online interaction. With over a year of everything from business meetings to birthdays taking place through a webcam, I (along with Washington Post) have noticed some subtle social changes carrying over from virtual meetings to in-person.
The “phone check” is more common
Before the pandemic began it was normal for people to keep their phones away while engaging face-to-face. Now, more people pull out their phones during these events. Whether it be a quick glance at the family group chat during a meeting, or viewing hymn lyrics during worship. It is interesting to see people be okay with looking at their phone instead of being embarrassed. While on a computer, it is easy to inconspicuously take a glance at a smartphone, in person, not so much. We need to become more accepting of people looking at their phones during life events. Even better, we can use this wonderful piece of technology to enhance the user’s experience during events.
The “Zoom Pause”
During video calls it is nearly impossible for multiple conversations to happen at once. When a person is asking a question to a group, there is an abnormal 3 seconds of silence when everyone tries to gauge the room for who will respond. This is usually followed by three people trying to speak at the same time followed by apologies and “no you go a head’s”. Strangely enough, I have seen this hesitation to speak carry over to in-person group conversations. It is much easier to deal with in-person “talk overs” (as mentioned in the WAPO article) as facial expressions and body language are easier to gauge, but it is funny to see it carry over to face to face conversations.
No more “Excuse Me”
Another habit that has been brought on from virtual calls is the quiet exit and re-entering. On a conference call it is easy to go mute and turn off a camera to deal with something off screen, whether it be a barking dog or crying child. In-person, this is harder to do without an “Excuse Me.” However, this habit is carrying into in-person meetings where people just stand up and quietly walk out of a meeting to attend to whatever matter has come up (usually on their smartphone). This is not a bad thing, just a new social cue that is now occurring. If someone needs to leave during an in-person gathering there is no need to let everyone know, they can quietly exit the area, take care of what they need to, and come back, making sure not to cause a distraction or be rude.
Gathering in person will take some getting used to. There are new social habits we have formed from this past year of virtual interaction, some for the better and some for worse – but all are different. Either way I am excited to see smiling faces in person again instead of through a computer.