‘Losing friends in lockdown: How the pandemic is impacting our social groups’

Aug 25, 2021
Barbara says the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown restrictions have changed how people are using their telephones. Source: Getty Images

I’m sure I’ve lost friends during this coronavirus pandemic and the resulting lockdowns. I feel isolated.

Was it something I said or didn’t say? Or is it because people think they’ll catch something over the phone should they pick it up and make a call?

I think everyone has retreated into their shells in fear. I call it the tortoise syndrome. Pull your head in, stay quiet and you’ll be all right.

The way we use our phones has changed in the past 10 years. You called someone on your home phone (the only one you likely had), then if it rang and rang you knew they were out so you called again later. Ditto if it gave the engaged signal. However, now smartphones are carried everywhere with you and the home phone has become obsolete.

Our modern phones deliver everything and have become cameras, notebooks, newspapers, banks, weather reports, — everything in one small bundle. Older people I know have a resistance to using mobiles and they think it must cost more.

There’s a different etiquette for actually using them as a phone to connect with another human being. If you want to talk to someone you first send a text inquiring if this is a good time. My sister refuses to do this.

“I’ll do it my way,” she said after I had tried to explain how it’s done now. She was complaining that she doesn’t hear enough from her son.

I continued, “First text to see if they’re available. That’s in case they’re in a meeting or doing something where they can’t be disturbed. Then you wait for an answer — they may say ‘I’m free in half an hour’ or they decide to ring you. It’s quite a different system now.” But she doesn’t believe me.

When I was a kid, my father insisted when the phone rang, it was his house and his money, so he was obviously the only person to answer it. I should explain that my father had polio and sort of skipped to the phone. Then in later years he had a stroke and needed a walking frame and could no longer skip, but still insisted on being the person to answer the phone even if it was in another room, and of course it was!

No carry around phones then. It sat firmly in the lounge room on its own little table.

It was excruciating watching him head for the phone, which invariably stopped the moment he got there. No looking at recent calls to see who rang so we’d then spend some time discussing who it may have been! Occasionally you’d get a wrong number and that’s exactly what they were. So it was “sorry, wrong number”.

One good thing though was that there were no spam calls back then. No voices saying they were about to take $400 from your account. Back then the person apologised, you said “cheers” and hung up. My dad would be astounded at today’s technology. And probably love it, I think. Very convenient.

I used to think it was so very strange to see young people with their phone attached like an umbilical cord. Now I carry mine around too, but the drama if you lose it is shocking, which leads me back to my lost friends. Will I find them again when and if this pandemic subsides? Will they still say, “Hey let’s have a coffee”, or drop in the way we used to? 

Quite often friends would say, “I was driving past and saw your car was home so I’ve come for a cuppa and here’re some lamingtons to go with it.” Those lovely old friendships have become difficult. Here in these endless days, somehow it’s not easy. I mentally make a little list of people I want in my life and tell myself to phone them. We can send messages, but it’s not the same.

Loneliness is creeping in. What’s become of us?

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