Yes, I know the pandemic is long past and seemingly far behind us, but sometimes I wonder if we still haven't shaken off its effects, at least as far as our local genealogical society meetings have gone. In the case of our own local organization, we retreated early, once the lockdown had been trumpeted, and began holding our meetings online within that first month. Now, almost four years after the news broke about a strange disease with worldwide implications, our group is still mostly conducting its meetings online.
The option to connect, if only virtually, seemed a lifeline at the time, back in 2020. It was good to "see" each other, if only in pictures the size of a high school yearbook snapshot. But after the novelty wore off—and the pandemic wore on—it seemed the awkwardness of meeting on camera kept people stilted and formal in their interactions. Conversations on camera just can't handle the give and take of conversations in real life.
Thankfully, it seems like we are finally awakening from our slumber, at least at our own local organization. Bit by bit, we've added in-person events—mostly of smaller groups of members, gathering in person to talk genealogy over coffee, or work alongside each other at the reference section in our downtown library. That's when the magic started happening again. Like perennials emerging from a long winter's reign, we seemed to thaw and get back to the normal give-and-take of just being us, together. We were no longer paralyzed by the interface of technology; we were just us, face to face, being ourselves—not our feeble attempt at looking like a television newscaster on screen.
After the hard work, month after month, of re-introducing the fresh air of in-person meetings, at this week's regular genealogy meeting, while still broadcast online, we were fortunate to have a speaker with inspiring ideas. After the presentation was finished and the question-and-answer session drew to a close, people just seemed to want to mill about, chatting—much like we would have done, pre-pandemic, when we met in person. Someone mentioned an idea inspired by the presentation, which prompted another person to comment further. The conversation evolved, gently, quietly, building through a bit of brainstorming until arriving at a suggestion for another idea for getting together to work on our research together.
While in the past three years, we've offered several online "Special Interest Group" opportunities to members, I hardly can imagine a response occurring during the post-pandemic online season like this after-meeting afterglow at our most recent meeting. Even though we think we are over the pandemic, I don't think we comprehend just how completely everything has changed since that event. Think about it: when was the last time you gave a friend a hug—without thinking twice about it—when you got together?We are all still getting re-acquainted with each other, even though we've seen each other online or even in person for all these months. The specter of what could have been is still with us—is still changing us.
While I certainly have no advice on how to move forward, especially given that we are once again entering winter flu season, I think just being aware of how we've all changed may give us a toehold in standing our ground regarding where we are now, and where we need to move in the future.
Somehow, we need to—people want to—re-integrate with each other in ways that are personally meaningful and allow social interaction beyond just being able to see each others' faces on a screen. We can't just cave to the "convenience" of attending meetings online without an outlet for the personal connection which makes life meaningful. Yes, it represents risk—and calls for extra effort—to get out and meet with people again, but it's in the face-to-face interaction where the magic of interpersonal connection begins. And I think that's what our societies are missing right now, as for our local communities we as genealogy organizations dwindle in membership and meaning.