As I noted previously, much of my social interaction of the last two years has been limited to FaceBook. But for reasons I won’t repeat here, even I don’t want to navel-gaze that much, that window is heavily curtained now. So I need to find some ways to compensate for that decrease, or risk turning into a hermit or even bigger squirrel than I am already. I have a life, however socially restricted it is now, but if I’m going to “boost” my social interactions without necessarily risking health incidents, I need to be a bit more creative about alternative sources of social interaction. To get “out” more without getting “out” more, perhaps.
I read an article about how to boost social interaction, and have been going down rabbit holes today looking at various options that people have suggested throughout the pandemic for those feeling isolated. Jacob has faced similar isolation, and when I look at some of the personal factors going forward (not the why, but the how), there’s a fair amount of symmetry. For him, we talked about three categories — things that he likes to do, that he can do by himself; things he likes to do with other people; and a third category that is a combination of either expanding the things in the first two columns so as to enlarge his interactions with others or finding new activities that would be done with others. Which leaves me finding ways to compensate for the lack of FB. I’ll need to find ways to boost interactions, albeit with new people I imagine.
This is one that I do mostly on my own, particularly for blogging, as it’s not much of an active hobby for sharing. Jacob and I did some writing together as part of NaNoWriMo, not collaborative but just writing in the same room to encourage us both to write, but most writing I do by myself. Whether anyone reads it is another story, and whether or not I get much feedback is yet another. My HR posts garner reactions, but most posts don’t. I’ll write the other posts anyway, although some days I wonder why I bother publishing it on the internet. I could simply just put it in an e-file, maybe Jacob will read it someday or not. The HR guide, some other things I want to write when I retire, those are worth sharing, but the regular blogging? It’s really just for me. Ways to put pen to paper, so to speak, nothing really different than a conversation with myself in a diary. As a hobby for “self”, it’s fine. I can do it anyway. But it is lonely at times, writing something that no one is likely to read, finding a great turn of phrase that no one will ever see.
To get out of that rut, I will try to do more for broader writing like fiction and non-fiction, and in the past, I’ve tried being part of a writing group. I probably need to find another group for that again, but admittedly, finding ANY writing group is easy…finding the RIGHT writing group is really hard. More about chemistry and fit than bodies. I don’t know if that might lead to more loneliness in a sense — yes, someone will read my stuff, and I would push myself through to the publication stage, but most books fall flat, and I’m not sure how I would feel about that. Would I be satisfied that I wrote it? Or would the fact that no one read it drive me into despair? How thick is my skin? With my blog, I can at least tell myself that the world doesn’t know I exist. If I’m in Kindle Unlimited, I can’t really claim that, now can I? However, the point was to boost social interaction, and a writing group could help get me there.
For the blogging side, I have interacted with other bloggers but rarely has it lead anywhere interesting. Ignore the fact that almost none of them are writing about similar topics, that’s a given. But most interactions end up being about trying to grow their brand on Instagram or monetize their site, neither of which particularly excites me. I’ve toyed with a couple of specific niches for blogging and curation that would increase my interaction with others, there’s one site design/format that I really enjoy for another area that I could emulate, I’m just not sure it’s quite what I want to do yet. It could be a significant investment of time over several years, even starting light. But one of the things that the person I would be emulating really enjoys is the literally hundreds of interactions he gets per week from his followers. If I want comments and to be seen, that’s a potentially effective way to go. Something I need to think about some more.
- Work on PolyWogg Guides (HR, astronomy, etc.)
- Find a writing group for fiction
- Decide on a topic for a new curation site
- Expand my engagement on Reddit fora for my HR guide and on Cloudy Nights for astronomy
A lot of the online suggestions are basically about boosting interaction, making friends, etc. through group exercise. Most of it is stuff that doesn’t really appeal to me. I’m not going to go to the gym, I’m nowhere near ready to take fitness classes together, that’s something I’m mostly limited to doing on my own at home. And right now, I’m not even set up well to do that. I need to fix it for activities, but the overall health side might eventually lead to bigger things. I would like sometime to perhaps get into cross-country skiing, and I might be able to join a club that does that…one of the articles described it more as “activity” buddies than finding friends or simply interacting, something perhaps in between the two.
I find it intriguing that some of the lists suggest there’s a difference between a gym that is something “general” as opposed to doing something like a martial arts class or taking up rock-climbing. I don’t completely understand why the people who do those see those as unique, that somehow the “activity” buddy category is different, but maybe it’s because some of the others require a specific “buddy” to do them. Not sure about that.
It’s also a bit intriguing that some of the sites include getting a dog under exercise. However, I also found that many of them had completely different views about how having a dog would help. Some see it as a friend in and of itself, often suggested as a companion for those who live alone or just feeling isolated regardless of their living conditions. Others saw it as a gateway to social interaction, i.e., the obvious interactions when out walking a dog and everybody wants to stop and say hello. Others saw that as merely superficial interaction, but not “friend building”, while others saw it as either a buddy activity (meeting others who would walk at the same time) or friend building (getting to know more people at say a dog park and hanging out, perhaps even leading to non-dog park encounters). I am not getting a dog, we’ve discussed it previously in the pandemic, and it was a clear no. I think Jacob would really benefit from having one, and from sharing looking after one, but he feels it is too much work. He’s probably right. And at my current fitness level, despite it helping with it, it’s probably true. I could easily feel overwhelmed by such a commitment, at least for now.
- Improve my fitness level
- Wait until our household risk profile improves
- Consider cross-country skiing or kayaking at some point
This one is not as obvious to me as it should be. The theory is sound, sure, people envision lots of people with similar interests taking a class at a community college or university, getting to know each other, talking in class, going for coffee afterwards, etc. But almost all of my interests in potential courses are about taking online stuff, where interaction is minimal.
I might do a photography class / photo shoot at some point, and I’m willing to take some astronomy lessons here and there, but it’s not particularly likely to lead to a lot of increased social interaction. To be blunt, I’m not a social butterfly. I tend to shut down in groups where I don’t know people. Which isn’t to say that I can’t learn, or that I don’t need to push myself more, but as an avenue, it’s limited. If I’m not forced to interact, like say in the fitness classes above, I might not.
I’ve seen some classes (pre-pandemic) for people, more activities than classes, for playing euchre or bridge once a week, and I would be willing to do that, but they’re primarily for retired people, so the schedule is almost always during the day when I’m at work. Not sure that’s much of a way forward. But I’m going to do a psych class, and even if it doesn’t lead to increased social interaction with anyone, at least it will be interesting.
- Consider an in-person class of some sort when household risk levels improve
- Consider photography shoot
- Start psych class
Okay, so maybe this is a little desperate sounding. It sounds a bit depressing to me that I need to resort to this, but mostly I’m ticking all the boxes. I’ve got other ways to interact with people, and I didn’t wipe out FB entirely (of the 26 people still in my contact list, 6 are people I could easily get together with some times although no one I would likely see weekly or anything, we’re not that close anymore, and honestly, with our household risk level, I can’t do much unless it’s outside anyway). Anyway…I digress.
There’s a site called Slowly that simulates penpal letters. It’s won a ton of awards, and the way it works basically is you create a simple profile, hiding whatever parts of your identity you want, enter some areas of interest, and it will “match” you with someone of similar interests. I created an account, matched with a guy in the US who likes writing, science fiction, reading, television, movies, board games, etc. I can’t remember the exact list, but we had seven areas in common. The “penpal” simulation is that you send them a message, but rather than delivering it like a text or msg in social media, it estimates how long it would take to send an actual letter from your location to theirs. If the post office was ACTUALLY that fast, they’d be more popular. 🙂 The average delivery time is two days. The rest looks like any penpal relationship. There’s lots of advice built into the site about how to avoid scammers, how to block people, etc. But otherwise, it’s a simple app. I suspect there are people on there who might want to use it more like a dating app, so I filtered it only to men with similar interests, and people closer to my own age group (45-65). I’ve seen a few sites that have mentioned lots of older people use it who have few social contacts in their life, shut-ins and/or isolated elderly people, and I’m not against exchanging with them. My only hesitations actually were a) seeming like I was feeling too “lonely” as opposed to just wanting to maximize alternative social interactions and b) it generally works off the phone. I don’t really enjoy typing that much on my phone, but I figured out after I sent my first message that you CAN switch to a site on the desktop, have to use a QR code to do it, but it seemed better.
On the humourous side, the app encourages you to write LONGER emails to introduce yourself to people in order to spark a variety of conversation topics. Yeah, cuz I need encouragement to say MORE. Maybe my use will go nowhere, maybe I won’t like it, maybe I get no response to some attempts. Or the more likely scenario, just no connection/chemistry with the penpal. But I gave it a go, it was an easy outlay of time.
- Try out a penpal app
Lots of people and sites turn to gaming as a way to boost social interactions. Some do it in person, which I can’t really do for awhile given our household risk profile, but eventually, I wouldn’t be against joining a biweekly boardgame group. There are a couple around, but I’m not ready for that yet.
I am also unsure how I feel about trivia at pubs. I confess I love the premise of having dinner and playing trivia on the traditional e-tools. Way back in the dark ages, a friend used to go regularly to play with a group at Puzzles in Westboro, and it was fun. Not something I would want to do every week, and to be honest, the competitive side rarely has any interest for me. In fact, it can reduce enjoyment more than enhance. I really enjoyed Puzzles as the group tended to share answers, so almost like playing as a team. Occasionally we would end up with someone who was uber-competitive and while they were happy to steal our answers when they didn’t know, they wouldn’t share their guesses until after the first couple of answers were eliminated (thus reducing your ability to ring in or get decent points). And competition with the other groups? It was for FUN, but some of them took it way too seriously. And again, I didn’t want to go EVERY week, I’m not that committed. For me, it would be more like once a month, stop in, play a game or two, eat some wings, hang out, and move on. The other challenge for me though is that unless I’m with a group of people and we’re all yakking away, the games are reallllllllllly slow. It takes WAY too long to get to the next question. Some pubs just run their own trivia rather than the mechanical version, but that too can sometimes be less fun than it might appear, particularly if some of the fellow social misfits around me are drunk. I’m not looking for drama, more just a shared experience I guess with some interaction.
I’ve considered some of the bigger online gaming things, more like Call of Duty etc., but well, I’m just not good at them. Nor do I have a group of frat buddies to synch up with, and I don’t want to crash Jacob’s group of friends. Cringe, as he would say. I do have some interest in a few maker spaces online, but that’s a different kettle of fish. I also fear, as many do, that the type of interactions in the MMORPGs can be a bit more reinforcing of anti-social connections than quality interactions, while at the same time sucking people into the online world and thus reducing OTHER existing interactions. I’m not looking for something to take over my life, I’m looking for a bit of a boost, some extra interaction, not a new addiction.
- Consider trivia group
- Consider board game group
- Consider online gaming
Hobbies or volunteering
Volunteering is out for now, I couldn’t handle the commitment, just too many other pressures in the last two years. I’ve cut way back on my volunteering in fact, and I’m good where I am. Everything that is left is both scalable and time-shiftable. None of it requires me to do SOMETHING NOW.
But most of the sites that list volunteering also have almost identical wording regarding a hobby — in short, finding a group of people with a shared interest (not quite the same as taking a class, this assumes you have some skill perhaps). My challenge is not finding hobbies, I have LOTS of things that qualify as a hobby, it’s finding ones that are shareable.
- Television watching — while that sounds simply like being a couch potato, for me it is always been far more active than that…I crave new premieres, like a fantasy football pool player. I predict winners, I watch and review premieres, I try to see what all the networks are doing for serialized storytelling. I’m fascinated by the choices writers make — or don’t make — in their setup of various series. But even writing reviews, or engaging in online communities and fora? It’s not really what I want to do … I’m happy to talk to a fellow storyteller lover, but I don’t want to wade through 500 fanboys and fangirls who think more about what the one character was wearing than the narrative arc of the author. I have NEVER found anything online that wasn’t the lowest common denominator. What I want — I think — is a forum for professional television writers, at least people in the business, which of course I am not and wouldn’t be allowed to join. But writers about TV writing? Bloggers like Ken Levine? I’m all OVER that. But it isn’t something that’s going to increase my social interaction. I’m not looking to go to a Xena convention. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I like ComicCon, I’m just not willing to pay hundreds of dollars to stand in line to see a “star” for 2 minutes. I have however been enjoying recently some online Q&A sessions that were available for free by the cast of things like Wynonna Earp and Arrow, but that doesn’t increase social interaction.
- Reading — this is a painful one for me to talk about, I confess. I couldn’t really find what I wanted, so I created my own. The PolyWogg Reading Challenge. People talking about books, no drama, all good. Except with my FB cutback, that had to go too. Not going into that again, already discussed, already done. But losing that interaction is painful. I know it doesn’t exist elsewhere of that sort, it’s why I created it. There are a few online book clubs I could play around with, but the signal-to-noise ratio is way too low for my tastes (not enough substance, too much noise). Sigh. I do reviews, but nobody reads them, and I’m not interested in deep-diving into Good Reads anytime soon. The real question is if I should stop doing the reviews at all as it is a hobby that does NOT increase interaction, it drives me the opposite way. I don’t mean that I’ll stop reading. But why write reviews that no one will ever read or are likely to interact with? I need to think on that some more. On the other hand, I’m not constrained in any way by the rules I had in place to run the book club, I can read whatever I want. I will miss the recommendations of others though. Double sigh. Moving on.
- Cooking — I really don’t have enough energy to build a cooking blog. I like cooking, there are some things I enjoy, but I don’t have enough commitment to engage people in a sustained way on cooking. I just don’t know or care enough about it. For me, it’s a “read, steal and make” hobby. It isn’t a “let’s discuss” hobby. On the other hand, there are normally lots of cooking classes, something to consider when I retire perhaps. Nothing for now that would boost social interaction.
- Photos — In a sense, this SHOULD increase social interactions, particularly when I share them. Except I have no one to really share them with anymore, not really. I can share them on my blog, sure, but no one really sees them when I do. My goal was to be able to share from Flickr to my blog, and from my blog to social media. But a lot of who would have been interested in that was the 125+ friends that I just chopped to 25 close friends and family. I haven’t mentally worked through yet if it is worth it to keep it going. I likely will, but that seems more like an astronomy thing with other photos than a dedicated photo gallery. I don’t know. Andrea and I talked lots about an online gallery, always available, plus yearly books, but we never got around to making them. I want to put them up around the house, some key photos from the years, and we never get to it. But while I’m digressing about the usage, the real point is that at present it will do NOTHING to produce interaction. In the past, when I posted a set of photos, someone would comment, “Oh, I really like the photo with the big leaf”, for example, or “Looks like a great vacation, love the water.” It was relatively superficial, sure, but at least they provoked a reaction. Now that I’m not sharing that stuff, not sure if there’s anything that will help with interaction still or even if it is worth having online and paying for that privilege.
- Long list of blog topics — I mentioned this in passing above, but I blog about a lot of topics. TV, movies, books, music, etc. But if nobody is reading them, that seems like a hobby that increases distance and isolation, not closes it. I don’t know what to do about that yet. Mostly wondering if it is worth it anymore if that chance of interaction has decreased from relatively remote but not zero to virtually zero. That’s a problem for another day. It’s just another one where I wonder if spending time doing THAT actually drives me away from others. Which is fine when I want to self-isolate, but I need to rebalance now.
I am in a complete state of confusion about my astronomy. I’ll try to work through the idea in my brain, but I’m not sure it will make any sense. I guess I’ll start with the nature of the hobby itself. First and foremost, it is mostly being alone in the dark looking at stars. That’s the nature of the hobby for most people. Even more so if I’m trying to do imaging, which means others aren’t able to look through the scope visually (usually). I’m also a fair-weather astronomer, it’s not like you can say, “We’re going Thursday!” and count on the weather to hold nor do I do hardly anything in the winter. I looked into an observatory last summer, but it didn’t work, and honestly, it would have increased my isolation as I would have been in the backyard alone.
Alternatives to that are to drive out to Almonte and use the observatory there. It wouldn’t be a lot of interaction, it’s more like six or seven people all individually doing their own thing. You wander over, you say hello, you go back and do your thing, someone might note that there’s a really good view of something that night, that’s about it. Some actually view together, but I don’t really have that vibe with the other people in the hobby. Jacob would go for some of that, but I’m not including Jacob or Andrea in my calculations of how to expand social interactions, those are just normal life things.
The most likely form of interaction would be the monthly star parties. The challenge is that we haven’t been able to have them for the last two years, and more pointedly, nobody has ANY idea of the risk factor when we do. Being outside limits the risk, wearing a mask would limit the risk. But to look through the scope, you have to put your eye against the eyepiece. Cleaning it in between viewers is fine, but it’s harsh on your EP if you’re using any sort of sanitizer. For most of the volunteers who would run scopes, including me, it gives us the willies. It’s PROBABLY safe, but well, that’s not the same as knowing it is safe. And with our current household risk level, it doesn’t even matter. As much as I enjoy the star parties and a night of full social interaction despite being an introvert, I can’t participate in them anyway. It’s just not worth the risk. Maybe by September, but then, it’s not even sure, and then we’ll be starting to get into the cold weather again. If they do sidewalk stuff, I might try for that using Jacob’s scope.
Far more likely is for me to engage in online discussions on the Cloudy Nights forum. I have some ideas of what I want to do for some astro projects, and it might actually lead to some interesting discussions. Not as good as in-person or even online with people I actually know, and there’s still the risk of a low signal-to-noise ratio. If I get time to start writing my Astro guide, that too should generate some interactions with people, the downside is it will be all more or less cerebral. Not unlike work interactions for people who are retiring — you lose much of your daily social interactions, as it wasn’t a “friend” network so much as a “work” network.
Put differently, it will increase “interaction”, I don’t know that it will increase “social interaction” or a sense of connectedness.
I had some action items for myself at the start, but it seemed to peter out as I went. They became more “maybe this, maybe that” and less clear about my way forward. I have a whole list of maker projects I didn’t discuss either, generally because they are almost all about me sitting in my basement doing stuff by myself. Not exactly likely to increase socialization. A 3D printer COULD in theory, but I’m holding off on that for now. I’m worried that it will just generate more stuff that I need to store, and I need to do some purging of other stuff first. I still want one, just not sure when. There IS a maker community there and I’m still following them on FB, but until I actually commit to buying a printer and get into it, it’s not much of a draw for me, with no real way to contribute or participate.
I have some steps, and I’ve already taken some. Still need to parse those other ones a bit more I think.