Each year, for nearly seven decades, the spectacle has unfolded in grand and scripted fashion: Leader after world leader striding to the podium inside the colossal U.N. General Assembly chamber to uncork carefully calibrated speeches, posture publicly and speak the language of statecraft. And each year, in the hallways of the United Nations and the hotels that surround it, intensive doses of more intimate, more genuine diplomacy take place in quiet conversations, in small bilateral meetings, in one-on-one huddles that gestate subtle understanding and, sometimes, even prevent wars. This year, the spectacle part is still happening – remotely this time, on video, in prerecorded fashion, far from the madding diplomatic crowd. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, that other, more personal part of U.N. diplomacy is silently, deafeningly absent. With it disappears something intangible but vital to the art of nations getting along: the in-person human touch. This is a time when it would really help the world to be able to talk to itself. And this week, on the socially distanced grounds of the United Nations, it can´t. “When you think about the U.N., that´s the essence of it. In order for the game to work, you have to have empathy. You have to treat each other diplomatically. What does that look like when you remove the actual humanity from it?” wonders David Sax, author of “The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter.”At the General Assembly’s yearly high-level “meeting” of leaders this week, the U.N.’s halls will be mostly empty. On the chamber’s floor, delegations will be limited to one person for each of the U.N.´s 193 member nations. The giant screens will be full – of far-off leaders who took no planes to convene but, instead, recorded messages in the safety and isolation of their home countries and their offices. “I expect not very much, to be honest,” says Richard Gowan, U.N. director for Crisis Group. “The idea that prime ministers and presidents are going to be sitting at home with a bucket of popcorn watching each other´s televised speeches is a bit silly.”Pandemic-era diplomatic gatherings might be safer, less expensive, less logistically challenging. They might even be more efficient; we’ll get a glimpse of that by week’s end. What they are not, however, is intimate and nuanced and filled with serendipitous opportunities for breakthroughs.“There´s subtlety that´s lost, and you also lose the potential to explore ways of resolving issues,” says Jeff Rathke, who was director of the US State Department press office in 2014-15 and, before that, deputy chief of staff to the NATO secretary-general in Brussels. “We´re stuck with the mannered set pieces, and we´re deprived of all the lubrication or cushioning that goes on around all those things,” says Rathke, now president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.