A new study looks at what has happened to the social life of Australians during lockdown by the pandemic. The findings suggest that COVID-19 may have had a long-term impact on our friendships, and not necessarily for the better .
The participants came from all states and territories, ranged in age from 18 to 88, and about two-thirds were women.
Australia: early departure
During 2020–21, more than 2,000 Australians were surveyed about their experiences during and after the lockdown . Each person was surveyed three times and asked about their interactions, lifestyles, and plans.
Australia is in a unique position for this type of study, thanks to the anticipated departure from lockdown in 2020. This means that we were able to learn about Australians’ COVID-19 experience during and many months after the lockdown .
As expected, many participants reported an increase in disconnection and loneliness during confinement. Interactions with friends "just weren’t the same." More worrying, however, was that these feelings continued months after the confinement ended. Some respondents described a lasting impact on their attitudes towards friendship and socializing.
Participants also described how friendship networks narrowed as they "pruned" more distant connections during confinement. Some participants’ networks dwindled due to a lack of opportunities to catch up , others described how the stress of the pandemic left them wanting to connect only with those who mattered most to them. Unfortunately for many, the friendship networks remained smaller months after the closure.
Continual restrictions on group activities spread feelings of disconnection. Younger people were also prevented from forming new relationships, as university studies were moved to the Internet and many odd jobs were eliminated .
Previous studies have suggested that digital communication can help reduce loneliness when used for interactive (rather than passive) purposes to help shore up existing personal relationships. But this study shows how digital connections cannot compensate for in-person friendships after COVID-19 on their own . The study also shows that we cannot take post-COVID socialization for granted. It will not necessarily go back to the way it was, once the restrictions are eased. We will have to make conscious efforts to reunite with old friends and make new ones when we are allowed to do so in person.