This weekend I ran into a particular problem that hadn’t really occurred to me since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic nearly a year ago here in the states. That problem that I ran into was that of party planning. In deciding how to plan a party during the pandemic I realized that the pandemic itself had completely affected an aspect of my social life that I didn’t put too much thought into since the “new normal” began, that is the social connections known as “loose connects”.

Levels of Intensity

In general we humans tend to have different levels of intensity with our relationships, I know this is nothing new to you (unless you’re an alien or super intelligent AI studying up on humans, if so then hi!). These levels of intensity can be classified into their own categories (from most intense to least intense) that are roughly:

  • Strong connections:
    • Loved ones & best friends
    • Close friends
    • Friends
  • Loose connections:
    • Acquaintances
    • Strangers
      You might have heard of Dunbar’s Number, the estimated number of close or close-ish contacts one can maintain, although the specifics of that number are debatable, the general concept applies here: that we can only maintain a limited number of contacts at any given time.

Like many of you, ever since the pandemic began I found myself almost instinctively doubling down on my loves ones, best friends, and close friends during the pandemic. I kept in contact with them either through text messages, small outdoor gatherings of only a handful of people (I find my COVID group size comfort level to be around 6 trusted people, no more), and weekly Dungeons & Dragons sessions. Over the course of the year my connections to my less close friends, acquaintances, and strangers had mostly faded away, with the exception of one area: the Internet. Long had the days of meetup groups, music fests, and crowded bars gone, this is the pandemic baby and we have to work with what we got.

The Best Time to Have a Pandemic

I’ve been saying throughout the past year that: “there’s no good time to have a pandemic, but of all of the times this is the best time.” We are so lucky to live in a high tech world full of pocket sized PCs, light weight tablets and laptops, and fast reliable wireless connections. As the past year has shown us: a good portion of the workforce, especially those who can identify themselves as “knowledge workers“, not only can work remotely, but in some cases, thrive working remotely. Knowledge workers like myself, as long as they have the right tools for the job, can pretty much work from anywhere. Plus with the boom of products like Zoom and Discord we can maintain our strong connections fairly easily, and open up new doors to loose connections.

When the pandemic hit I found myself migrating to online communities, mostly on Discord, to get my social fix. I identify as an extrovert, and not being able to interact with many different people throughout the week drives me crazy. In the “before times” I would go to meetup groups within my interest to meet other like minded people and share ideas, make acquaintances, and build friendships. I still participate in these sorts of gatherings, but it’s fully online now with Discord (the one I’m most active in is that for the fans of the best podcast network in the world: Relay FM). Throughout the year I’ve made plenty of connections with other like minded people in spite of the pandemic, but my more local loose connections had been pretty much entirely cut from my life.

So although the more conventional means are no longer there, at least there are ways to build loose connections throughout this time. I couldn’t imagine what this would be like in a pre-internet time.

Conclusion: The Birthday Party

I was never planning on inviting more than a few close and trusted friends to my birthday gathering, and I did have the criteria that whoever showed must at least have gotten their first vaccine dose. In the end, the gathering only consisted of three close friends plus my partner and our two dogs. It was small but most importantly fun. But compared to the last pre-pandemic party we had at our place there was no room for anybody who wasn’t within my best friends and close friends circles, and I kind of miss that. At the last party we threw we had invited not only our close friends but also people we were acquainted with. Living in an age of loose digital connections doesn’t have the same magic as getting to know somebody at say a podcaster’s meetup that you hit it off with, and then inviting them and their partner to an impromptu party later that week. With that being said I am grateful to even have the opportunity to meet others, even if online, and I’m even more grateful to even be able to see a few close friends on my birthday.