Not to be one of those “I did it before it was cool” people, but, well, I considered myself a video-call expert long before Zoom moved to the forefront of all our lives. I spent roughly four years in a long-distance relationship, which means I had a lot of time to perfect the art of hanging out with a loved one through a screen. And here, on the other side of those years, is the single most valuable piece of advice I have to offer: The best video call is one where you’re doing something else.
If you’re not seeing family in person for Thanksgiving this year, think back to how you’ve used that time together in past visits. Yes, being in the same physical place can make it easier to have focused, free-flowing conversations about what’s going on in each of your lives. But a uniquely wonderful part of being together is the ability to just be together. It’s the freedom to chat absentmindedly in fits and starts as you cook dinner. To sit in comfortable silence while two people work on a puzzle and one person does a crossword and one just kind of daydreams and sips their glass of wine. To briefly look up from your book or couch nap, share a laugh about that weird thing the dog just did, and then get back to it.
You can do that on Zoom, too. You don’t need to schedule the call, then sit down with your catch-up talking points and wrap up when you’ve run through them all. Instead, keep the call running all day. Let it naturally ebb and flow in your attention from background to foreground.
“Sometimes, your mere presence is enough,” Drew Magary wrote in Forge around this time last year. “I like being around my kids without ALWAYS actively playing and socializing with them. I just want them THERE. Thereness is important.”
Technically, Magary wasn’t writing about Zoom; he was writing a guide to talking to people who have been through some shit. This year, though, that’s all of us. We’ve been through some shit. We’re still knee-deep in it. And thereness is important, however you can make it happen.