The original social distance tool

Since lockdown began, you’ve been online 24/7. If it’s not working from home, it’s homeschooling your children. From there it’s Facetime with family, Zoom happy hours with friends, or even (depending on how apocalyptic you feel) WhatsApping your ex.

Then it’s Netflix. Maybe a streaming theatre production or concert. Then an online yoga or fitness lesson. Shopping online. Hours of TV.

And that’s all before you check the news. You hop from one news site to Facebook post to another, hoovering up the latest statistics and conflicting statements on masks, gloves, coronavirus symptoms and social distancing rules, trying to make sense of it all.

You’re plugged in, connected and online. Every minute of the day.

In the history of the world, we have never more needed to step away from the screen than now.

But how can we get away – without getting that far? How can we keep social distance – without feeling totally isolated?

Try rummaging around in your desk drawer. On that old mug bristling on a table top. Check your work bag or briefcase (the one that’s been gathering dust these last two months at home). You’ll probably find more than one example of what could be called the original social distance tool:

The pen.

Think about it. Pens were created to record your thoughts. Slowly. Writing allows you to crystalize and condense your ideas, and review them as you put them down. It’s the perfect balm for a hectic, harried and over-taxed mind.

What’s more, pens were created with social distance in mind. Like with many modern digital tools, you can communicate across time and distance. But unlike email, texts and tweets, there’s no way to get dragged into a heated argument or go chasing a quick dopamine boost when a notification pops up demanding you respond. Pens help you keep a healthy social distance.

And when the world is so complicated, and we’re struggling to figure out the latest features and updates on the latest digital tools we’ve all had to adopt for working, playing, and learning from home, there’s something genuinely refreshing about a tool that just does one thing really really well.

So why not pick up a pen and give it a click?

Write down your post-lockdown aspirations. A to-do list. A silly Post-It note to self. Send that holiday postcard you bought with all the best intentions in the world, but never wrote. Or send a letter to someone special. Sure, you could just add one more email to their Gmail inbox, but these days there’s perhaps no better way to cut through the digital clutter than with the warmth and empathy of an actual physical letter (and in times like these, who couldn’t use a bit more warmth and empathy?). All else may be closed, but your post office is open.

In this always-on era, we may not be able to disconnect for long. But we’ll still need to keep our distance. To do that (with apologies to The Beatles) you can get by with a little help from your pens.

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