The Healing Power of Even Virtual Human Connection


Almost two years into this new age of varying degrees of self quarantine, I am registering that my own social interactions through technology have been an important part of my life.

I text with my son, 175 miles away, morning and night and often in between. I talk and text with my daughter and watch the videos she and my grandchildren create.

I not only treat patients via Zoom; I also participate, as one of the facilitators, in a virtual support group for family members of patients in recovery.

I have reconnected with cousins in Sweden I used to go years without seeing; now I get likes and comments almost daily on things that I post. I have also video chatted with some of them and with my brother from my exchange student year in Massachusetts 50 years ago.

I have stayed in touch with people who moved away. And I have made new friends through the same powerful little eye on the world I use for all these things, my 2016 iPhone SE.

Members of my addiction recovery group stay in touch with each other via phone or text between clinics. They constantly point out the value of the social network they have formed, even though they only meet, many of them via Zoom, once a week. The literature has supported this notion for many years and is very robust: Social isolation is a driver of addiction.

It is also a driver of cardiovascular risk and is thought to be a risk factor of the same magnitude as smoking.

But, do new, online friendships mean as much for our health? This is probably a question that is too new to be answered. How many of these relationships can transition and deepen over time and through different stages of life? Suzanne Degges-White, PhD, writes cautiously about this in Psychology Today.

In 2017, pre-pandemic, Frontiers in Psychology reported that people who spent a lot of time on the Internet were more lonely than people who used the Internet less. But that was in a different era, when in-person relationships were a more practical and safe option than they are today. Back then, the heavy users of the Internet were possibly a self selected group for entirely different reasons than today’s high utilization demographic.

But with the fragile state of affairs, exemplified by the revolving door of new coronavirus mutations – of which Omicron is unlikely the last one – we probably need to make the most of whatever means we have to stay in touch with family and friends. Not so much that we neglect the necessary solitude we all need for introspection and self care, but enough to feel connected in some way to the human race.

Hans Duvefelt is a Swedish-born rural Family Physician in Maine. This post originally appeared on his blog, A Country Doctor Writes, here.