Face to face vs virtual events: either way, connection is important
Families, businesses, schools, and more pivoted during the pandemic to encourage connection in a wide variety of ways online. Now that we are able to congregate in person, will participation in the virtual communities continue?
The answer is a resounding yes. The world changed forever as we navigated through the many months of Covid-19, and technology is definitely here to stay. That’s not to say online communities will replace in-person get-togethers. They do serve, however, to extend our engagement and provide opportunities we may not find locally. We need both.
Are virtual communities here to stay?
I love physical hugs, conversation, and laughs. There is just something special about engaging with loved ones in-person. Virtual interactions are just not the same. I get it.
However, online meetups are wonderful for those who feel isolated. This issue is particularly common among older adults who do not have family or a community of choice nearby. More than 25% of U.S adults age 65+ are socially isolated. Isolation can lead to loneliness, accelerated cognitive decline, depression, and more. In fact, a 2019 study reviewed data from more than 580,000 adults and found social isolation to increase the risk of premature death for every race from every cause.
Others feel isolated because they don’t connect with people around their passions locally. Online venues provide a way to satisfactorily engage virtually from the comfort of their own home.
For example, Carol was thrilled to find online dance social hours. She said,
“I don’t know anyone in my age group that likes House music, so it was fun to take this class with others. We were reliving our club days. It’s just fun!”
“I’m a younger senior. I don’t want to rush up the street to the senior center with all the older people. I like sitting here. For me, I would rather sit here in my home for an hour or so. I can take more classes at my pace without running around.”
Felice, an older adult who enjoys taking classes online, said,
“If it wasn’t for virtual platforms I wouldn’t be able to take the plethora of classes I took. I avoided a lot of scheduling conflicts by eliminating the need to drive to a number of different locations. It’s easier for me to learn from home.”
Engaging Through Technology
Many online venues provide opportunities to meet new people with shared interests. Here are a few examples:
- Webinars – Many organizations host webinars online with guest speakers and lectures. You can find programs on Eventbrite.
- Virtual Fitness Classes – If your local gym doesn’t offer online fitness classes there is a huge variety out there from Fabulous50 to Ballet for 50 and beyond Be Healthy Enough, or Flipping50. All of these offer classes customized for older adults.
- Book Clubs – Start a virtual book club through your local library. Make a monthly or bimonthly evening to discuss literature via Zoom.
- Take a Class – Join live interactive online classes on GetSetUp, or enjoy university-style classes on Coursera.
Prefer in-person engagement? You’re not alone.
I understand you can’t replicate all experiences online, so if you have good options locally, get out and enjoy them!
Here are some good ideas for in-person opportunities:
- Volunteer: Many great organizations offer interesting volunteer activities including AmeriCorps Seniors, Senior Companions, National Parks Service, Musicians On Call, Peace Corps, Habitat for Humanity, Meals on Wheels, Alzheimer’s Association, and Experience Corps.
- Local Groups – Find local groups in your area through resources like 50PlusToday, 50Plus Directory, MeetUp, or Stitch.
- Community Centers – Find your local community centers or what’s happening at your local area agency on aging.
- Fitness Centers – Join a local fitness center. If you are a SilverSneakers member or a Silver & Fit member through your Medicare plan, most of the programs are offered free of charge!
- Art Communities – Enjoy the arts. Attend or participate in your local theater, art fairs, or other art events. Check out the latest open studios and museum showings.
- Passion Groups – Find or start groups that share your passions whether it’s a foreign language, cooking group, sewing group, or sports team. You can often find these local groups on Facebook or Nextdoor.
- Take a Class – Enjoy a class at a local community college, university, community center, or senior center. This can be a fun and rewarding way to learn new things.
The bottom line
Face to face vs virtual events? Which do you prefer? Whichever you choose, it’s important to engage in activities about which you are passionate! Virtual opportunities cannot replace in-person, but they certainly offer a wider variety of comfort, times, and topics to explore. As you work to broaden your communities, connect with old friends and/or make new ones, consider using technology to augment your growing circles. You may find that by participating in engaged communities, your health and happiness may increase significantly as a result!
About the author
Liz Miller is the Communication Manager at GetSetUp a live, interactive learning platform for older adults who want to learn new skills, connect with others, and unlock new life experiences. She loves to share stories from the older adults in the community with media and empower others to thrive!
originally posted Feb 2021
updated Feb 2023