A quick anecdotal peruse around Twitter conversations suggests to me that our collective patience is running very thin. My own experience this week as I consider my inbox, my responses and chats with friends supports this view too.

The reduction of real life relationships, those ones that look us in the eye, that feel our presence and that hug us if needed, are at an all time low for so many of us. The online world, normally tempered by this offline connection, has become the only place to meet groups, for many of us to do our work and even to shop. While some of us have been navigating online relationships, etiquette and limitations for a long time, it is clear that many people are learning how to do this for the first time.

There is a reduction of offline connection with its nuanced connection opportunities (which I also appreciate are not on offer to everyone in offline life). This then intersects with many people simply not having the skills yet around how to have online relationships (or even work the platforms which is incredibly stressful to learn alone while managing all the other demands) due to never really having to professionally before. Throw in heightened workloads for front line workers, and we have the perfect ingredients for exhaustion, loneliness and misunderstandings.

So, how does this play out? I’ve been working online for about ten years. I built all my own websites in the first 5 years and learnt how to use social media professionally and all associated digital activity for someone doing what I do. I say this here because I’m still on a steep learning curve right now! Due to having met so many people over the years at events, through training and online, I have an incredibly large amount of lovely digital interactions via emails, tweets, WhatsApp messages, lots of feedback, every day. If I didn’t have that, the difficult stuff would feel immense.

In contrast, I also get a lot of this right now. One person, in capital letters, told me that I had hacked their account and demanded their money back. I had to explain that their manager had booked them on to my training, they hadn’t personally paid a penny and no, their account had not been hacked. Another demanded I remove them from my email list and that they had asked for this several times. I explained that there is an unsubscribe button, just as there was a subscribe button at some point pressed and as it is automated, then clearly they hadn’t asked several times or they would have been removed. My favourite was an error on my part. I simply didn’t realise that the maximum number of rooms available on Zoom for Breakout sessions was 20 (on a package for 500 attendees). This meant the Breakout sessions were far too large (because I was very lucky enough to have 500 attendees). But this person wanted their money back. Their £15. I refunded them of course.

All of these examples demonstrate to me a smaller window of tolerance exacerbated by the challenges of online living without the warmth and nurture of high quality offline relationships. And to be honest…. I’m with you! I’m feeling it too. At the beginning of the week my responses were modelling who I dream I would like to be all the time but by Friday, I’d had enough.

At the end of each email, each tweet, each message, is a person, a real person who is also living in a very 21st Century pandemic. If we are to get through this more robust, more connected and as better people, then we will need to dig deep. After that, we will need to dig and dig again because this is life for many months to come. Do not be fooled by the loosening up of lockdown measures. The virus hasn’t gone anywhere!

A 21st Century Pandemic asks us to work harder than ever at how we communicate with one another, how we set stronger boundaries, how we deepen our own personal awareness to enable deep reflection and honesty about what is happening for us right now. As we hold the many variations of how we are experiencing this time, there is one thing that will never change and that is that we need each other; our very survival depends upon it.

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