A Letter Of Apology To Video Calling

Alone together... but without leaving your couch!

Today marks the beginning of week two of social distancing, so staying authentically connected has never been more important. 

This weekend, I learned the unbridled joy of video calling!

'OK Boomer', I can almost hear my fellow digitally-obsessed millennials scoffing, but ever-late to the party, on Saturday night, along with five other girlfriends – each wine in hand – we figured out the art of self-isolating without being isolated.

Don't get me wrong, so far during social distancing, I've signed up to Microsoft Team, spoke to colleagues on Zoom, scrolled Instagram stories like it was a hobby and called my family daily, so it's not as if I'm a Luddite, but before this COVID-19 pandemic, there were so many things about virtual face-to-face communication that irked me.

Chalk it up to bad Skype memories, but despite having pals in corners all around the world, catching up via bad connections, stop-start videos and that awkward two-second delay ("Hey, how are you?", "Hi, how are you?", "Good, how are you?") was not my thing.

Instead, I favoured essay-long text exchanges and voice notes that verged into personal podcast territory! 

Instead, I favoured essay-long text exchanges and voice notes that verged into personal podcast territory! 

That was until I was introduced to Houseparty – an app takes the best parts of Snapchat and blends them with bits of Facetime to form a low-key, organic-ish way to have face-to-face interaction — the kind, researchers say, will be crucial to our mental health over the next few weeks. 

Houseparty App

Nothing about Houseparty's technology is groundbreaking, but the app is pretty uniquely suited to the time we're in, in that it facilitates chilled video calling with the intended ease of making the rounds at a house party (explains the name!). Its deliberately casual language only echoes this sentiment further — when you're logged into the app, your friends get a notification that you're "around" (if they're in the app) and that you're "in the house" (if they're not).

During my 45-minute video call on Saturday night, I shared coffee with two friends in Sydney (it was barely 7.30 am their time, so wine wasn't an option), toasted a pal in London who's quarantining with a new-ish boyfriend (they survived week one without killing each other) and got smug updates from two other friends who've gone back to their family homes in Galway to isolate (the promise of a fully-stocked fridge proved too tempting). 

All of which, I could have absolutely gleaned via text, by what faceless, typed-out messages lack in immediacy, tone or indeed loud, belly-laughs, video calls have in spades. 

what faceless, typed-out messages lack in tone, nuance or indeed loud, belly-laughs, video calls have in spades. 

I closed the app genuinely feeling like we'd not only caught up in real-time but had also shared in something more poignant, all things considered! And by the looks of things, we weren't the only friend-group indulging in a tipple or two on the Houseparty app either. On Sunday morning, I woke up to an Instagram feed that was full of funny eight-way screenshots, all big smiles and captioned with some variation of 'Girls Night In!'. 

Equally, I've learned of virtual poker games, pub quizzes orchestrated on Zoom and IGTV life-drawing sessions, all of which are providing a tonic to the madness of this new reality. The coronavirus pandemic has upended almost every corner of our modern lives and in some respects, it's hard to imagine going back to normal. 

With increasing numbers of people self-isolating to contain the spread of coronavirus – and even more adding responsible social distancing restraints into their daily lives – loneliness could very well be a mental health epidemic that follows in the wake of COVID-19.  According to research, the coronavirus aftermath has even been said to have the potential to cause a social contact recession, as well as an economic one.

According to research, the coronavirus aftermath has even been said to have the potential to cause a social contact recession, as well as an economic one.

With so much uncertainty about how and when all of this is going to come to an end, I do know this much, in our new increasingly-insular reality, staying authentically connected will be integral to our survival (and sanity)... and for that reason, I really should have cut video-calling some slack (the adjective, not the instant messaging platform) a long time ago. 

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