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How a Pandemic Taught Me and My Gen Z Friends to Put Down the Phone

Generation Z has grown up immersed in the internet and social media and are often stereotyped as being addicted to technology and incapable of face-to-face communication.

Generation Z should know how to communicate through technology better than anyone. But do they? As a member of Gen Z, I can say this pandemic and the isolation has made us totally rethink the role of technology.

Now more than ever, my generation can recognize and appreciate what other generations have been telling us our whole lives: Nothing beats face-to-face communication.

I was visiting home when the news of the pandemic broke. I had packed my bags for a two-day weekend with my family and instead found myself home for two months. That was a shock in itself, but the next big change would be living at home again, indefinitely.

After having all the freedom in the world at college for nearly eight months, being home was a significant change. Not only was I away from a university that had pushed my limits and helped me mature, I was away from all my friends who experienced that with me.

At college, I had quickly become accustomed to face-to-face interactions with my friends multiple times a day. We studied together, we ate together, we went out together. There was never a time in my first semester of college that I felt alone. Suddenly I was always alone. I was lucky if I got to hear my friends’ voice over the phone once a week. Staying in contact with everyone I valued was seemingly impossible. And face-to-face communication was out of the question.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying either.

I was constantly using technology to reach out to friends.  Texting, FaceTiming, Zoom calls, and social media filled my days. The difference was that no one was there to notice when I was falling apart. People could check my social media and see pictures of me happily quarantined with my pets. It’s easy to forget that checking up with someone on social media is often a misrepresentation of their actual life.

It’s not easy to hide your emotions when you’re sitting face-to-face with one of your closest friends. Acting like nothing is wrong is so much easier behind a computer screen. So, I was staying in touch with my friends over quarantine, but they weren’t experiencing my true feelings and reactions to everything that was happening. And I wasn’t getting to experience theirs.

Feeling alone and hiding behind my screen like this went on for months. Until, finally, it was time to go back to school. It was immediately evident how much everyone had been affected by the isolation we all felt.

The generation that was supposed to be the most technology savvy was turning away from their screens and toward each other—six feet apart, of course.

While almost everyone I knew was worried about the pandemic and its spread, staying away for a second longer when we had the opportunity to be face-to-face in the same room was impossible.

I have watched my generation turn from sitting in coffee shops together while we scroll aimlessly through Instagram to planning adventures that we’ll remember for a lifetime. Planning picnics, hikes, and sports events has become a new favorite pastime. As a generation, we act like we’re inventing all these fun ways to be outside when, really, they’ve been around all along.

Not only have the activities changed, the way we interact has too.

I was often guilty of planning to hang out with someone and then spending my time split between them and my phone. Being isolated for so long changed that in me. For years I have heard jokes about how if I keep burying my head in my phone, I won’t know how to carry a real conversation. It wasn’t until a pandemic that I realized how important face-to-face communication is.

I had spent months craving for interaction from someone that wasn’t in my immediate household. Within a day of being back at college things were already seeming better. Seeing my friends smile as they talked and hearing their laugh made everything seem normal, even though we all knew that things were still far from the normal we knew.

Learning how to have a new normal in the midst of this pandemic was hard. Being away from the friends I cared so deeply for was harder. But, surprisingly, learning how to have face-to-face communication without any technology involved was easy.

A face-to-face conversation means so much when you know in the back of your mind that it could be taken away from you at any second. While the pandemic has taught many people how to better use technology, it has taught my generation to go without it.

Nothing will ever beat getting to sit with someone face-to-face. It was about time my generation learned what that meant. If only it hadn’t taken a pandemic to do it.

Kierra Hill is a student at the University of Florida. She plans to major in both marketing and journalism and minor in education. Kierra is passionate about the next generation and hopes to become a high school teacher.

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