We recently traveled to the beach, hoping to get away from it all during my daughter’s spring break from school.

Even though we only frequented places that still require masks during our trip, there was a noticeable change in people’s demeanor. While we were required to wear masks to enter a restaurant, once you were seated, everyone could leave them off until you exited the building.

That has pretty much been the standard for the past year so that was not the thing that made me sit up and take notice.

The discovery that bothered me was the number of people who were not communicating in any way whatsoever with the folks at their table.

I saw tables with husbands and wives, mothers and children, grandparents and children, and even some that were just friends. Or at least they appeared to be friendly with one another when they bothered to interact at all.

Everyone was on their device. Either talking or texting or photographing or tik toking or Facebooking or instragramming or something. One woman was on the phone, not touching her food while the man with her sat and ate his breakfast. She eventually got off the phone and ate cold food.

I know the past year has been difficult on everyone. But things are reportedly improving based on the number of new cases and the number of people who are trying to get vaccinated.

So why oh why are we still not speaking to each other?

Talking to people has become some sort of taboo. We all put our heads down and do not look each other in the eye anymore. The days of a friendly greeting are in the past.

Our children have been locked down, quarantined and masked up for so long they will need to be taught to engage in conversation all over again. The sad part is I am not sure they will recover quickly. Some have experienced depression and anxiety since school started last fall. This will be a year they will never forget.

 The fear of catching the virus is something they have been focused on so long, so it will not be an instant process.

The pandemic has forced many to sacrifice their quality of life by keeping people isolated.

It has created a generation that are facing social isolation and loneliness. These two elements have immediate effects on the health of individuals.

We already know that social isolation leads to surges in mental health concerns, substance abuse and domestic violence.

While the use of technology during the pandemic was essential, nothing has more benefit to us as a society than the human experience of in person contact. Our future health conditions can be enhanced by encouraging and maintain more social face-to-face connections.

So many of our daily activities are tied to our phones one way or another. It is almost like they have become an extension of ourselves.

During the pandemic, our children were faced with virtual learning instead of in-person classes. This necessary practice created an environment where they were tied to their devices for hours at a time just to complete their required school assignments.

In a different time, it would have been unacceptable for them to spend so many hours staring at a computer screen. It is going to be a challenge to separate them from those devices. They may need to be re-taught ways to interact socially.

We have now been advised that people who have had both vaccinations can even gather in small groups. That is great news.

The big question is whether we will know how to relate to each other once the constant threat of catching a deadly virus is lessened.

A recent Gallup poll showed 60 percent of people check their phones at least once every hour. Another 81 percent said they have their phones with them during almost all their waking hours.

That is a lot of folks who are not benefiting from real personal interaction.

The phone is a great way to immediately connect with anyone in the world. But constant use of devices will cause us to lose touch with the value of real in-person contact.

And that is what we are witnessing now. When people are more satisfied staring at their phones than they are talking to the person they are with, it signals a need for a device intervention.

After all we have suffered during the pandemic, we now need a cultural change that emphasizes personal interaction with each other.

We can not let the events of the past year make us isolationists.

As restrictions are lifted and we get to take off our masks, we need to grab every bit of personal contact we can find.

Anita McGill is a former publisher of The Sentinel. She can be reached by email at anitamcgill99@gmail.com.

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