Connectedness in COVID-19

By Lisa Lewis

We are living through one of the weirdest times in history. If you wanted to, you could interact with strangers from around the world just as easily your next-door neighbours. Thank you, digital technology. No thank you, social distancing. The year 2020 will be remembered as a year of transformation; facing droughts, bushfires, floods and COVID-19. In some way, these events have touched the lives of every Sydneysider. When social distancing was introduced, we were expected to adapt to a new way of life virtually overnight. This change was abrupt, inequitable and challenging, especially for those who experienced pre-pandemic marginalisation. As the restrictions set in, a range of new determinants of social interaction emerged. Including access to technology, digital literacy and financial security. Across the Greater Western Sydney region, many lost access to education, employment and entertainment. Don’t get me wrong – I understand these changes were necessary. In fact, my overall quality of life has been improved by many new lockdown-related habits. What I'm trying to determine is: are we doing enough for those who experienced pre-pandemic isolation, loneliness and social invisibility?

Between 2015-2016, I volunteered with the Australian Red Cross’ Telecross program as an assistant supervisor in their Blacktown office. This experience has never left me. My role was to ensure that welfare checks were successfully conducted on our clients who included older Australians, those who are housebound and people with disabilities. Working in this role is probably the most rewarding but difficult thing I’ve ever done. Nonchalantly, the volunteered make hundreds of call every day to empower other people to live independently. For some clients, this call was their only meaningly social interaction for the day. This program taught me that fostering community connections can change and save lives.

In the wake of COVID-19, I wonder – what is happening to those of us who cannot keep pace these changes? In cyberspace, the equivalent of losing internet is standing in an elevator with no buttons or sitting on an indefinitely grounded plane. As we shift from the physical world to the digital realm, the metrics by which we measure our sense of connection, wellbeing and quality of life must change. While some are enjoying newfound freedoms, we must remember that others have suffered greatly; losing their loved ones, their livelihoods and experiencing loneliness. If our response to social issues does not ascend to the level of seriousness that we give economic issues, we will never achieve the robust, high-quality, inclusive community we want. Western Sydney residents have been struggling to overcome insurmountable political, economic, social, cultural and digital inequities for years. Now is the time for change.