Researchers say virtual communication cannot replace face-to-face interactions. But since the COVID-19 outbreak, many of us are using virtual apps like “Houseparty” and “Zoom” and social simulation games like “Animal Crossing” to fulfil our need for social connection, in a safe and socially distanced way. Social connection, ‘a person’s subjective sense of having close and positively experienced relationships with others in the social world’, is a core human need. An absence of social connection has been linked with poor emotional wellbeing, such as feelings of loss and sadness, and pain akin to physical injury.
The Global Covid Study’s Instagram polls have found that:
- 13% of respondents are in lockdown alone
- 25% of respondents moved back to their families
- 60% of respondents are finding lockdown stressful
Even before the pandemic, research has been steadily finding that more people are communicating online than offline. But perhaps this pandemic has caused a dramatic increase in our virtual social presence. If social distancing measures are here to stay, what role does the internet and technology have in helping us stay socially connected?
- Meeting new people and catching up with old friends face-to-face is now harder or impossible. Research has shown that when relationships are at risk of decaying from lack of interaction, we will invest more time in communicating to reinforce our social connections. With an internet connection, we are able to safely maintain our existing connections and even form new ones virtually.
- Research has shown that even something as small as a text message to a friend or loved one can be a source of social support in stressful situations.
- Online party games such as Jackbox and Cards Against Humanity, have become a choice activity for social groups to simulate in-person interaction. While a lot of research has focused on the potential negative effects of internet gaming, notably addiction, multiplayer gaming has been observed to make players feel more connected to one another.
Despite the benefits, the emerging phenomenon of “Zoom Fatigue” is a good example of how prolonged and intensive use of the internet and technologies every day in lockdown can leave us feeling drained and exhausted. To combat Zoom Fatigue, here are a few tips on how to stay socially connected with one another without getting overwhelmed.
- Interchange between platforms that can enable audio and video communication. Seeing who you are socialising with can increase feelings of acceptance and hearing their voice humanises the interaction – such cues can enhance intimacy and minimise miscommunication. If you need a break from being in front of the camera, switch to a voice call or instant messaging.
- Avoid multi-tasking when you’re on video calls. Research has found that task-switching takes a toll on our memory and the amount of time we can be productive. Try closing open tabs on your screen and muting your notifications.
- Build-in breaks. If you have back-to-back virtual meetings, consider making them 25 or 50 minutes instead of 30 minutes or an hour. This will give you a little time in between to get up and prepare for the next meeting.
The pandemic has shifted our working and social lives to being “digital-only” for the time being. But remember, it’s important to take breaks from the technology when we need them to take care of our mental wellbeing. Technology is often portrayed as an influencer of negative social behaviours. However, there is a silver lining in recognising that in these challenging and uncertain times, technology has allowed us to carry on with our working lives, safely communicate with our loved ones, and to virtually maintain our social connections.