Digital methods used to stay in touch during pandemic here to stay: Western researchers

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people adapt to many challenges, including what we will tolerate as we interact with one another, a group of Western University researchers has found.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people adapt to many challenges, including what we will tolerate as we interact with one another, a group of Western University researchers has found.

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Anabel Quan-Haase, a professor in the faculty of information and media studies, alongside Western sociologists Molly-Gloria Harper and William Hollingshead, analyzed data gathered from 100 residents in the East York area of ​​Torontoto better understand patterns in how people maintain post-pandemic social connections.

“Reactivating those face-to-face visits is not so easy,” Quan-Haase said. “We are all facing the same problem: How do we reimagine our social selves?”

The researchers found the way people communicated with each other using technology during the pandemic can be a substitute for in-person meetings.

Canadians have become so acclimatized to digital communication that online interactions have become the norm for building and hanging on to social ties, Quan-Haase said.

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“The big finding was that pre-pandemic most people across all ages preferred in-person contact,” she said. “That is particularly the case for emotional support when you need someone to lean on when going through a difficult situation.

“(Now) when that’s not possible, people are actually quite content with substituting other forms of technology.”

The researchers will be sharing their findings as featured speakers at the upcoming Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, billed as Canada’s largest and most comprehensive academic gathering.

This year the event – which will be virtual – will focus on the future following two years of the pandemic. The congress began Thursday May 12 and continues until May 20. More than 6,000 visitors are expected to attend.

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Another key finding of Western researchers was that age matters when it comes to preferred technology, Quan-Haase said.

“We found technology can be quite important in intergenerational communication, but they used for the same age peers mostly the telephone,” she said. “For a lot of participants the phone was a really important tool.”

The largest section of older adults polled had “a strong foundation” in digital media, she said, but a small group were more reluctant users.

“For those it’s much more difficult to transfer those skills into a new situation,” she said.

Having “technology readiness” is important when it comes to reacting to crises such as COVID-19, Quan-Haase said.

“If you don’t have it, it’s going to be very challenging to adapt and it can have consequences like increased loneliness, disconnection and make it more difficult to reach out for support.”

The researchers also found many people are increasingly using “media multiplexity” – that is, using several channels, such as Zoom, Twitter and Facebook – to stay in touch with a single social tie or friend.

“Technology is rapidly becoming a normal part of socialization,” Quan-Haase said.

hrivers@postmedia.com

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