It’s the second week of our collective, voluntary quarantine and everything is online now. The spread of coronavirus has upended the rest of society in drastic ways: many high school and college classes are entirely virtual, for example. Prisoners across the country are being released early, and in New York, where I live, mortgage payments are being paused (though there’s not yet widespread rent relief) and evictions have been suspended.
On a personal level, I’ve found the changes to my own life to be no less dramatic — I don’t leave the house anymore, not really, and because of that I spend a lot more time online. Most every other white collar worker I know is in the middle of their own internet realignment; their jobs, which previously weren’t remote, have now moved to a semi-permanent work-from-home state.
I’m spending more time online because that’s how I socialize now. That’s where my friends are. My social life hasn’t dwindled so much as it’s just changed. Hangs at bars are now Zoom-hosted happy hours; podcast recording sessions are now Discord calls; going over to a friend’s house is now joining a Playstation party; any IRL party I’d host is now my daily Twitch stream. Life looks a lot different now than it did two weeks ago. (And obviously it’s for the best. Gotta flatten that curve.)
Now that my screentime is up 1,000 percent, I’m starting to see more of my friends do things online that they otherwise wouldn’t: they’re streaming activities on Twitch and going live on Instagram at rates that, prior to this pandemic, I would have found a bit concerning. People are beginning to use internet platforms in exactly the manner they were designed to be used, and those platforms are taking up more space in everyone’s media diets. What remains to be seen is whether this change in people’s internet consumption habits becomes the new normal.
Because, really, what all this feels like to me is a glimpse of the old future that was imagined for the internet — the promise of frictionless, instant connection across all borders. I guess, all things considered, it’s not that weird that it took a global quarantine to make that happen. It’s hard to make the case for exclusively virtual socialization if there’s the option to meet in person.
But there is a heft to online relationships: they can carry just as much feeling as IRL ones. I mean, how many people have gotten in touch with you lately just to check in? And how many people have you reached out to who you might otherwise have left a double-tapped heart? I’m weirdly grateful that so many social platforms exist; I’m doing more reaching out myself. While we’re required to be alone, we can still be together. I guess that was always the promise of the internet.