The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected nearly every aspect of life for many people worldwide. The rapid spread of the virus and the attempts of national governments to prevent the further increase in cases forced numerous individuals to adjust how they work, study, and communicate with others. Thus, communication with family, friends, and loved ones suddenly shifted, with individuals preferring to meet and speak in a digital space. Social interactions during the pandemic shifted into the digital space and can be characterized by greater control from the national governments and reduced non-verbal communication.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, communication within the social context occurred freely and without government-imposed limitations. People could gather without restriction in private residences and public indoor and outdoor spaces. The number of people that could gather in these locations was controlled only by the inviting party as per social protocol. Furthermore, the quality of various interactions was different as communication with family, friends, and even strangers was verbal and non-verbal.
People could rely on facial expressions and body language to help them navigate different social situations and read cues about the behavior of others and their own. In addition, non-verbal communication of touch and proxemics of personal space allowed individuals to understand others better and adjust their behavior to the specific situation and context of communication. Overall, before the pandemic, social interactions were controlled by the persons involved in the communication scenario who could participate in verbal and nonverbal interchanges.
In contrast, during the COVID-19 pandemic and the necessary measures imposed to prevent the further spread of the virus, the control over communication between people was delegated to third parties. Moreover, non-verbal communication and cues were reduced due to enforced limitations. Specifically, during city- and state-wide lockdowns, people were not permitted to study and work offline, depending on the nature of the job, and were not allowed to gather in groups in private residences and public places. The majority of communication moved to the digital space, with people connecting with each other online via messaging and video call applications.
Furthermore, non-verbal communication became restricted to the tone of voice and eye contact in the digital space. Meanwhile, offline, people were required to wear face coverings and observe the social distance, hiding cues given by facial expressions, and proxemics of personal space. Thus, rules for communication during lockdowns were mandated by the government, and it became primarily verbal and, for many people, occurred online.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic is not considered to be over by many, restrictions in many countries are easing. However, as the governments alleviate many restrictions, communication after the pandemic is expected to resemble social interactions before COVID-19. It can be argued that social distance and face masks will remain a requirement for many indoor gatherings in public spaces, limiting non-verbal communication. Nevertheless, as restrictions relax, more social meetings will occur offline in public spaces and people’s homes. Overall, the government’s control over social gatherings is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels, with people at risk voluntarily conforming to social distance rules. The social interactions will likely return to the pre-pandemic model as well, with few exceptions.
In summary, the COVID-19 pandemic has considerably affected how people communicate with each other. During the pandemic, social meetings primarily took place online, with nonverbal communication becoming more restricted both in online and offline contexts. Before COVID-19, such interactions were controlled by the persons socializing, whereas the pandemic saw governments restricting social gatherings. Nonetheless, it is expected that with the alleviation of many restrictions, communication within the social context will soon return to the pre-pandemic norm.