The benefits of online communication

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Staying at home has been onerous for many, and we’re all starting to miss the once ostensibly small but now perceivably luxurious activities that would assumedly come with the return home for the vac. There are many parts of the pre-COVID-19 world for which we all feel saudade; activities as futile as a stroll around the grey and rainy block are sunlit in our memories (which feel much more distant than a mere month ago), but for many of us the most felt loss is social interaction.

Undoubtedly, social distancing is the right thing to do, and it never hurts to remember that there is an endpoint to this weird time. Before we know it, this era of stockpiling toilet paper and singing out of the window will be a surreal memory. But for now, we have something valuable that they did not have during the 1918 influenza pandemic: countless forms of online communication.

At university, social interaction is a thing that often just happens, regardless of whether you try. Grabbing a drink after a morning class or lying on a friend’s floor for five minutes, or an hour, or – whoops – three hours; although rarely planned, these are some of my best memories from Hilary term. But, alas, they were always at the expense of work I really should have been doing instead.

But we all now possess something that, as Oxford students, we thought we had signed away the rights to for a good three (or more) years.

Looking back at the last two terms, a recurring problem was the way a heavy workload – or, often, a regretted albeit smart decision to get an early night – gets in the way of a thriving social life I’d ideally be living.

But we all now possess something that, as Oxford students, we thought we had signed away the rights to for a good three (or more) years. Free time. Time to hate watch all five of the twilight movies, time to impersonate and idolise Mary Berry, or, perhaps, time to embrace this rare opportunity to pause for thought, to appreciate those who matter and to make a concerted effort with these people. The people who, when what now feels like an apocalypse in fact comes to an endpoint, will be the first people you buy a train ticket and make the journey for.

Consider the moments that happened organically in college – being invited for a cup of tea by someone in your building – and orchestrate them online. We have the tools at our disposal, so use them! Have a Skype call where everyone drinks a cup of tea and catches up on their (admittedly slightly vacant) day. If you can do a social activity in person, you can do a variation of that activity online.

Without having to worry about commuting to another part of the UK, or even another country, more of the time invested in a social interaction can actually include that interaction. In just one day, and without ever leaving my room or spending a penny, I can watch a failed attempt at a home hair dye job over messenger video call, lose several games of Risk over Steam, and start a new series on Netflix party.

A six-week vac cannot allow for an IRL meeting with every person you would ideally see, but a single hour on zoom can easily reunite us all: New Jersey, Poland and Chorley all on one screen. Plus, there is no real-world alternative for setting your Zoom background to the most spiteful photo of your friend that you can find.

Perhaps even try the old but not yet forgotten art of a phone call. Remarkably, despite the seemingly endless and misspent void in isolation, it is always possible to fill hours over the phone with minimal awkward silences.

a unique opportunity to do something creative

These modern age advantages aren’t limited to self-made friendships. How often is the whole extended family free and in the same place at once? Some years, this only happens at Christmas, but in 2020 we can make it a weekly event: Tuesday afternoon at five, block it in your calendar grandma, a family Skype call (–it’s the little blue icon with an S on it… no, no, the one on your home screen! Yes. The. Blue. One.)

Even for long distance relationships, a status many have unexpectedly found themselves flung into, hope is far from lost. It may not be ideal, but it’s also a unique opportunity to do something creative and put in effort, just as with friendships. Make each other a pub quiz based on their hobbies, or come together to think of a less cringe inducing idea than the hundreds of horrific ideas on the internet.

Now we know how easy it is, maybe we will continue these online habits in to the future – a social reality particularly beneficial to international students now just as included in catch-ups and meet-ups as UK students, and to university-based couples regularly faced with separation for a potential six week period.

So, play heads up over Houseparty, steal each other’s cards in the online version of Cards Against Humanity, or have a good old-fashioned text chain going with someone you hadn’t thought to stay in touch with until now, and before we know it: we’ll be back to normal together.

Image Credit: ideath

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