Yesterday, Charlie was explaining to me how his school will approach the coming weeks/months. He’ll be teaching his courses online, asynchronously, and wrote, “We have office hours during class time.” Because so many people are still going into work, I jumped to thinking he would be expected to show up at the school to meet with students individually:
After my flabbergasted response to the exchange above, he clarified. They’ll be meeting via google hangouts, etc. It dawned on me that this was a moment of witnessing the evolution of our language.
Language functions as communication because there’s a collective understanding of the relationship between the sounds and symbols of verbal exchange, and their meanings. It works pretty well most of the time, but not always. Language is alive. It evolves. Words and phrases come and go, and denotations/connotations change over time. When was the last time you heard someone (other than your grandparents) use “gay” to mean happy, for example. And did you have a moment of feeling old when you finally figured out that your teen confessing that they “spilled tea” did not refer to dropping their mug but to revealing a juicy bit of gossip?
Since the time when our relationships added online connection to other forms of interaction, most of us have used the shorthand, F2F/face-to-face to distinguish online versus in-person meetings.
Now, suddenly, pandemic crisis has shifted that. Charlie IS meeting F2F with his students–they will see one another’s faces, in real time, and they will connect. Except they will not be in the same room. And so the language evolves. I wonder what term people will use to denote physical presence with one another when we finally emerge from this crisis? More disturbingly, I also wonder whether the need to distinguish between physical presence and virtual presence will become archaic. I hope not.
I started a Facebook post after this as I tried to brainstorm other meanings that were shifting during these times, but didn’t come up with much yet, other than:
“Corona” no longer brings to mind Mariachi and tacos; “I need space” is no longer an emotional request; and “Presidential Leadership,” –if it hadn’t already–has become an oxymoron.