Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

The importance of love and connection in the time of social distancing

A ninja virus has brought the entire world to its knees, writes contributor Séan McCann, and seems determined not to rest until we are all laid low or, at least, very lonely.
Contributor Séan McCann is concerned that digital dependency will deepen to the point where social distancing becomes the new normal. And if that's the case, he writes, 'then we will have won the battle only to have lost the war.' (Dave Howells/Submitted by Séan McCann)

What just happened?

Six weeks ago, I was out hiking across the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, cowboy camping under the western stars, off the grid and out of range — oblivious and free as any human being can be.

Today I am under lockdown, self-isolating with my family at home and hiding from an enemy I can't see or hear until it is too late.

A ninja virus has brought the entire world to its knees and seems determined not to rest until we are all laid low or, at least, very lonely.

COVID-19 is a relentless bitch.

We are made of music and we are made of love and I, for one, can't wait to see you all face to face again when we reach the other side.

Even if it fails to infect us all physically, it is determined to rip a huge hole in our already tattered social fabric — a wound I only hope we're all eventually able to recover from.

In a world where the social divide has never been more extreme, this illness threatens to pull us even further apart by pushing us all back into our own homes and, inevitably, more online while we remain embedded underground.

I have heeded the scientists and double checked the math. I fully understand the necessity for social distancing and the real consequences should we all fail to fall in line over the coming weeks … or months.

Grateful for technology

As humans, I believe we are generally capable of getting it half right at least some of the time, and therefore I'm confident that sooner or later we will as a species survive this epidemic.

My question is: what kind of society will we re-emerge as?

I am grateful for the technology that's keeping us all in touch. Where would we be today without the help of incredible inventions like FaceTime and Skype? Even the ancient practices of email and texting are great weapons to employ against social isolation. I can't even imagine living through something like this back in the day when all we had was the operator-assisted long distance call to communicate across provinces and countries.

But as a 30-year career performing artist I have also witnessed the slow erosion of live ticket sales as more and more people prefer to remain home and hear about it on Facebook after the fact, rather than actually coming out to see a show.

Our eyes are focusing more inward and onscreen where everything is happening to everyone, everywhere, all the time.

Add that to a Pepsi and a bag of chips — and it's a wonder anyone can manage to get up off the couch except to go to work or drive the kids to school. With basic triggers for physical social interaction (temporarily) removed, we're now all free to sit home alone and Google our brains out indefinitely. That just feels wrong to me.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic closed our borders, Olympian Clara Hughes spent a week walking the Grand Enchantment Trail of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona with her friend, Séan McCann. (Submitted by Séan McCann)

The argument could certainly be made for this being social media's finest hour, with Facebook and Instagram keeping us digitally connected and simultaneously entertained in the face of a global pandemic emergency.

While this is technically true and I'm actually grateful for the distraction today, after surviving for more than a decade in the deliberately addictive world of social media, I've been left constantly feeling socially unsatisfied and underwhelmed. It will do in a pinch, but we should not forget that our online avatars will never be an acceptable replacement for our real human faces.

I am an addict so I know how extremely hard it is to kick a habit. Digital addiction is real and if there's one thing I've learned from working with people who struggle with this disease, it's how divisive our devices can be.

While the Band-Aid solution argument may well apply today, I feel it's important to remember that the seductive blue light emanating from our various screens is fundamentally artificial and will never equal the value of face-to-face human interaction. Social media is our systemic modern societal addiction and we have never been more vulnerable to its negative effects than we are right now when we're, for a short time at least, digitally co-dependent.

This crisis will pass.

'Summer of hugs'

Séan McCann rose to fame as a founding member of the multi-million-selling folk group Great Big Sea. (Dave Howells/Submitted by Séan McCann)
My fear is that our digital dependency will deepen to the point where social distancing becomes our new normal, and if that's the case, then we will have won the battle only to have lost the war. Alternately, my hope is that this situation may serve to remind us of who we really are and trigger a kind of physical reset in our lonesome bodies.

Perhaps 2020 will be remembered less for its socially distant spring pandemic than the incredibly tactile 'summer of hugs' that followed?

In times of crisis, Canadians always come together to make the best of a bad situation. From the fires in Fort McMurray to the storms in Newfoundland and Labrador, we have proven time and time again that we will be there for each other in times of need.

Today is no different. Let's use technology to help each other get through this difficult time — but let's also remember that we are so much more than the sum of our "likes" and followers.

We are made of music and we are made of love and I, for one, can't wait to see you all face to face again when we reach the other side.

Together.

Séan McCann is a founding member of the multi-million-selling folk group Great Big Sea, an Order of Canada recipient for his advocacy of those living with mental health and addiction issues, and the author of One Good Reason: A Memoir of Addiction and Recovery, Music and Love, released on April 14, 2020 with Nimbus Publishing.

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About the Author

Séan McCann

Contributor

Séan McCann is a singer, survivor, and recovery advocate. He lives in Ottawa with his wife Andrea, their two children, and too many dogs and cats.

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