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Story | Community
21 May 2020

We can rebuild our connections better after pandemic, QF’s Doha Debates hears

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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to rely on online avenues for staying in contact.

Photograph: fizkes/Shutterstock

Latest #DearWorldLive episode explores how COVID-19 may change the way we stay in contact

The self-isolation imposed by COVID-19 has forced us to think about “how we take connections for granted and how we can make them better”, the latest episode of Doha Debates’ online exploration of life amid a pandemic has been told.

The Qatar Foundation (QF) production’s weekly #DearWorldLive show looks at different aspects of how coronavirus has affected societies and lives, with its most recent edition focusing on how – despite physical distancing and guidance to stay at home – people can still make meaningful connections.

Dr. Govinda Clayton

Priya Parker

Hosted by Doha Debates correspondent Nelufar Hedayat, the episode heard facilitator and strategic advisor Priya Parker, author of The Art Of Gathering: How We Meet And Why It Happens, tell the online audience: “This is an interesting time because it’s a social X-ray of what we take for granted, including gathering and being together.

“Many gatherings before this pandemic weren’t great because they didn’t lead to people connecting with others in a meaningful way. Now, when we can’t meet, we are having to think about how we create that meaning when we are apart, rather than just going through the motions, and finding new and innovative ways of doing this.

We have to be strategic and intentional not just about who we want to stay in touch with, but how we can actually build these connections even when we are in isolation

Priya Parker

“Studies have shown that if families and friends don’t see each other in person for two months, the feeling of closeness can drop by 30 percent. The opportunity we now have is to discover how we can meaningfully connect, otherwise it’s very dangerous to social relationships. We have to be strategic and intentional not just about who we want to stay in touch with, but how we can actually build these connections even when we are in isolation – and, during this period, we are seeing people reconnect with old friends and reactivating dormant ties more than they did in the past.”

Speaking about technology’s role in keeping people connected, Parker said: “It is actually changing the nature of gatherings – for example, the Supreme Court in the US is live-streaming arguments for the first time, and Harvard University is allowing students to defend their dissertations online.

We have seen fundamental shifts in the nature of social movements, and people getting creative and innovative in the way they come together

Dr. Govinda Clayton

“Whether technology is good or bad is a less interesting conversation than where and how we can use it to allow access we didn’t have before, or that we thought was too difficult before, and also to consider where it is not helpful or relevant. We are beginning to see what we are going to be more grateful for, conscious of, and determined to protect when we come back together.”

The episode, titled Losing Touch: How To Build Bridges While Physical Distancing, also featured Dr. Govinda Clayton, a senior researcher in peace processes at ETH Zurich’s Center for Security Studies. His research focuses on negotiation, mediation, and dialogue, and he told the discussion: “We have seen fundamental shifts in the nature of social movements, and people getting creative and innovative in the way they come together.

“Often, when things are operating normally and it’s business as usual, it’s easy for us. Now, because of the change in context, we are having to fundamentally reinvent and rethink the way in which we do things – and, as a result of this, we might find improvements that we wouldn’t have found before.

“We are all having to learn to adapt, and the question is which parts of this adaptation will stick around as this crisis moves into its next phase. Personally, I’ve had new and positive ways of connecting with some members of my family, and I hope they will continue, but they’re not necessarily a substitute for other forms of contact and communication that we hope will be restored soon.”

The latest episode of Doha Debates’ #DearWorldLive series focused on how we can maintain and improve our connections amid the current crisis.

Also contributing to the discussion were QF partner university students Joud Ghalayani, who is studying business administration at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, and Shahryar Rana, a fourth-year medical student at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar, who said: “The question is whether we will continue to use the technologies that we are currently using, now we have found so many redundancies in the way we usually communicate.”

#DearWorldLive airs every Tuesday on Doha Debates’ Twitter feed, Facebook page, and YouTube channel. For more information, visit www.dohadebates.com

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