By this point, we all have heard that the main way to contain this devastating coronavirus pandemic is social distancing – or keeping gatherings of people down to just a few and at least 6 feet away.

A popular Facebook meme states, “First time in history that we can save the human race staying in front of the TV and doing nothing. Don’t screw it up.” But the longer this goes on, the harder we might find it to keep up the routine of social distancing.

From birth to death, humans rely on touch; we are not merely social beings, we are tactile mammals. It’s embedded in our vocabulary: We touch base; we lend a hand; we reach out and touch.

Distancing is going to have profound effects on all of us if it lasts any length of time. It’s the distance that is critical, moreso than the number of people. On at least one social medial outlet, some people were focusing on numbers of people, but not the distance and were missing the point. They suggested that it’s OK for friends to get together in groups of two to three couples at a time and enjoy dinner together.

For the record, this is terrible advice. Not only would people not have the proper distance necessary for safety, but there would also be sharing of food, passing dishes, etc. However, such desires emphasize just how social we are and how much we desire proximity with one another.

In the Lowountry, our population density is not nearly as high as New York or other hot spots. But many of us live in gated communities with “older” residents , who are among the most vulnerable group that can suffer from the severe effects of the coronavirus.

Additionally, we have been accustomed to a variety of activities from golf, tennis, swimming, clubhouses, great restaurants, etc. All of these amenities have been either drastically reduced or shut down entirely. For a relatively active population, this is going to be a challenge.

Fortunately, we have some tools that can help. Where would we be without social media? What if we could not Facebook or otherwise enjoy facetime with friends and loved ones? We text each other with frequency.

It’s difficult to imagine what sheltering in place would be like without social media. However, as helpful as it can be, it is often a poor substitute for that face-to-face, hand-holding, hugging contact that we crave.

As an educator who has taught online courses for the past 10 years at several universities, I have some familiarity with the advantages and challenges of distance communication. There two general types of distance communication: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous is achieved in realtime. Skype or a simple telephone call are examples. Asynchronous is communication that one person posts and others can read, view and respond to at a later time.

Asynchronous distance communications are more common. We post something on social media, and friends or family will see it minutes to days later and respond. There is not only a time delay, but it is all too easy to lose something in “translation,” so to speak.

In the written word, the tone can often get lost, and misunderstanding can abound. Realtime video conferencing is preferable for most forms of online communication, assuming good internet speed.

Sadly, we have no idea at this time how long this “social” physical distancing will need to continue. But what is clear, humans cannot be socially distant for too long. What we need is physical distance, and we will need to rely on technology to help us stay social.

John Riolo lives in Moss Creek.