I have kids, so I therefore watch a lot of Disney movies. In the movie WALL-E, the Earth has been destroyed by pollution, so all the humans have been put on a spaceship and blasted out to a far-away galaxy. They all sit in their own private floating chairs, watching their personal little TVs, eating and drinking to their heart’s content. They are, for the most part, completely unaware of the people around them. On a side note, they also become tragically obese and barely able to walk.
When I’m curled up on the couch and watching movies like this with my kids, I have these moments when I think everything is OK. I’m busy at work. People come into the wine shop, and I pour them a little something I have open. I get to chat with wine-sales reps and interact with customers and my co-worker. Aside from the whole mask-wearing thing, it feels a lot like business as usual. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.
Then I have moments of sheer panic. I begin to think about WALL-E and our society, and how we are disconnecting from each other. I think about social gatherings—and more specifically, my wine tastings—becoming plagued with trepidation and fear. “Did he just cough?” “She sneezed near my wine!” Check, please!
Luckily, for now, we have found a new way to look at one another while we sip our wine du jour—and that webcam is giving us some solace. It’s a convenient and simple way to feel like we’re engaged, and makes the distance between us a little more palatable.
But for me, the Zoom wine parties, while an acceptable substitute for now, will never compensate for actual human interaction. I crave the energy at wine events that people give off when they are looking you in the eye and telling you a story. I love eavesdropping on the side conversations that break out when people who just met are making a connection—a connection that was formed through a mutual appreciation of wine (or whatever!) and a desire to be surrounded by other warm and friendly strangers.
I’ve seen the most beautiful friendships form at the wine bar during our weekly tastings—between people who may never have crossed paths had it not been for these little social events during the week. It is so important to me that these bonds not be broken that I began our own Zoom wine get-togethers. Much to my surprise, they are a blast! It’s undeniably fun to play with technology in a new way and create conversations through an unexpected medium. Even with all the kinks and quirks, we manage to make it work.
Imagine if I told you three months ago that the only way you would be able to have a glass of wine with friends soon would be through the computer. You might have politely laughed, or worse, assumed I’d gone off the deep end and sent me directly to Betty Ford. But here we are, clamoring for socialization to the point that staring into a little black dot is giving us just enough hope to carry on. But I’m not gonna lie—sometimes, it makes me sad.
Is this going to be the new normal? Is this the point where we throw our hands up and say, “Oh, well, I’ll just pour myself a glass of wine, get in my jammies and FaceTime with my BFF. I mean, who wants to get all dressed up and go out when I can sit on my couch and not waste gas or risk getting a DUI?”
I would like to think I’m being overly hyperbolic, but when I think back—well before this isolation occurred—I clearly remember that you could walk into any restaurant, and somewhere, seated at a table, were two people. These two people consciously made an effort to get dressed, get in their cars, and drive to a public place in order to physically spend time with one another. And those same two people were spending the entire time together looking at their phones, barely speaking to each other—no pandemic needed.
It seems we had already begun our path to social distancing.
It’s a little-known fun fact that the reason we clink glasses before we take a sip is so we can involve every one of our senses during the tasting experience: The clink happens so we can also engage our ears. This concept got me thinking about drinking wine socially with another person versus drinking by yourself. Isn’t there an old adage that warns of the dangers of drinking alone? I wonder if the danger is the potential for the drink to mean more than the company, or maybe the concern was that without others present, it was no longer a social experience, but a necessary outlet. Is Zoom giving us permission to drink alone? Was there an underlying motive to clink our glasses so we were sure to be in the company of others when we were drinking?
This is not to say I think Zoom or FaceTime will replace real-life human interaction. It won’t. And for that, I’m also grateful. But I don’t want complacency. I don’t want people to choose comfort over connection. I don’t want this situation to change our mindset where we focus more on disconnecting and separating than we do on embracing friends and community. I don’t want to become a society where instead of it being just one table with two people cut off from conscious interaction, it’s the whole damn place.
At the end of WALL-E, two chairs accidentally bump into each other, causing the occupants to break their trance and actually notice one another. Incidentally, they also fall on the floor and roll around like barrels, unable to get up. In spite of that, it’s actually a pretty touching moment. They realize they’ve wasted all this time, so close and yet so far apart.
When all this is over, please choose togetherness. Please choose joy and human connection. Choose glass-clinking, good food and wine, and laughter, and conversations that don’t require buffering or Wi-Fi.
Be well, and I’ll see you soon.
Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with two decades in the wine industry. She can be reached at email@example.com.