With the UK in lockdown, we must resort to new forms of socialising. The lack of daily routine and inability to meet other people seems to provide an endless void for those staying at home, but once this void becomes filled with unlimited social media interactions, are we actually becoming overstimulated in our attempts to navigate social isolation?
The importance of social media has taken on a new meaning in the context of a global pandemic. It is a powerful tool for bringing people together which many relationships and friendships are currently dependent on. Unable to see my best friends for the foreseeable future, I feel very privileged to have the means of keeping in touch with them virtually. However, with this being the prime way of communicating with people outside of my household, I am finding myself spending more time than ever staring at a screen.
I must admit, there was a certain novelty to it at the beginning of this period of lockdown, with the non-stop Houseparty notifications resulting in impromptu conversations with people I hadn’t spoken to since high school. But once I’d FaceTimed everyone in my contacts and swiped through an endless stream of mundane Instagram stories, I noticed that what initially seemed like vast amounts of time to fill was actually becoming saturated with meaningless interactions.
As much as we can replicate reality through Zoom calls, it can never replace it. When my friend and I ran out of things to talk about 1 hour into a FaceTime call I seriously started to question the basis of our friendship. But when in real life would you sit and talk face-to-face with someone without any external distractions? I can hardly offer them a virtual cup of tea when the conversation runs dry.
Video-calling loses the subtleties of real-life and intensifies social interaction to the point that it feels unnatural. This is a concerning factor with the majority of students receiving teaching online over the coming weeks. I worry that video-call tutorials and seminars will never achieve the same dynamic as those in person.
Social media provides a fast-paced stream of communication that is alien to real life. In under a minute I can watch someone cook their dinner, flick through an album of photos of ‘pre-corona’ times or read a series of quarantine routines on Twitter. The mutual boredom of all those without a job or classes to go to means that social media is, now more than ever, the nation’s stream of consciousness.
In a recent article in The Guardian, Joel Golby claims, “coronavirus has infected our culture, and the discourse is mutating around us, and the language and intensity of discussion will be permanently disfigured by this once-in-a-lifetime event”. People are aware of each other’s lives now more than ever and the effort needed to keep in contact is reduced to simply picking up the phone.
I wonder, when we finally reach the light at the end of the tunnel, how we will re-adjust to the coffee dates and pub trips which require more careful planning. I hope that the magic of casual interaction, the sitting and enjoying the presence of someone else without formal communication, is something we will have a new appreciation for when normality resumes.
Currently, socialising online is our only option. Yet I would encourage people to see social media as a complement to reality rather than a replacement for it. We must be creative with the way we use the technology we are privileged to have. It warms me to see people getting together for virtual dinner parties, movie nights and reading groups. Keeping up the routines and activities we took for granted before this pandemic helps to make this craziness feel slightly more normal.
Socialising is important, but it isn’t everything. While many of us are blessed with more free time than we’ve ever known, why not take up a new hobby or do those things that you previously never had time for? I have started reading a book for pleasure for the first time since high school, spent more time playing the piano, and even made time to do arts and crafts. So next time you find yourself scrolling through an endless stream of ‘hot takes’ on Twitter, why not take some time for yourself? I promise you won’t be missing out on much. These past couple of weeks have taught me not to be ashamed of declining group calls to continue with my knitting.