Social Distancing in the age of Social…distancing?

It seemed like not long ago we had arrived at the conclusion that social media was responsible for us socially distancing ourselves from one another. It appeared that with all the relevant data we gathered, social media force-fed us the illusion of being together when in fact we had never been further apart.

Here comes coronavirus in its COVID-19 materialization and once again we find ourselves, of necessity, to self-isolate, barricade the doors, and buy up stock in all the toilet paper we can find–do we think wiping our butts is going to cure this new disease or what?

Now more than at any other time you might be thinking to yourself that it’s a good idea to dust off your social media chops, reinstate your social media presence, and hunker back into mind-numbing bi-partisan rants, cute cat videos, and endless brain rotting scrolling.


I have a better idea. Instead of getting back into old habits that truly waste your time and your mind, why not start reading again? But for real this time. No seriously, reading is good for you.

Listen, studies have shown that reading can:

  • Exercise your brain! (Make you smarter.)
  • Help improve your memory! (I remember where I left my glasses now!)
  • Expand your imagination! (Whoa, I just saw through the Matrix!)
  • Reading can amplify and fortify your vocabulary.
  • Reading can change how you feel, about the world, about your life, about other people, about events, about the universe.

Of course, reading can also help you escape for a while, bring you to new worlds, and help you cope in a time of massive uncertainty. Of course watching TV can kind of mimic that, and going on Facebook is a terrible time suck in which nothing productive ever gets accomplished. But reading, reading is a different way to engage with the world, with another person’s mind, to share with other people what you’ve learned from what you’ve read.

Just because we now need to socially distance ourselves from others doesn’t mean we need to go right back to using social media to distract ourselves. We don’t need to get into long winded arguments on Twitter or Facebook when no one there is poised to change his or her mind on any given subject anyway. Our sense of being ‘woke’ won’t help anyone see our point of view any better.

A book, however, can take you to a whole new place. It can spurn in you a different direction of your life. Sometimes you might even disagree with the author of a book so much that it compels you to write your own book in response–better than a war, because in the process of writing you end up having to research and learn more than you thought you knew on a subject.

The point is, just because we can’t hang doesn’t mean we should get lazy or complacent or go back to old vices. This is our golden opportunity to expand ourselves while this virus (hopefully) fizzles out and we can get back to living our lives amongst each other again, talking, laughing, eating out, having parties…and hey, you can still read about characters in books who get to do that, you get to be a fly on the wall of brilliant or interesting conversations that happen in those books.

One of my favorite books of recent memory has been The Lost Man by Jane Harper. Go check it out if you’re into murder mysteries.

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5 months ago

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