Recently, several hundred thousand, if not millions, of Americans have started working remotely, at the behest of their employers and in the interest of limiting the spread of the coronavirus. And for the foreseeable future, a group much bigger than that will, in accordance with encouragements to practice social distancing, start socializing remotely as well.
Earlier this week, my colleague Kaitlyn Tiffany put together a primer on what social distancing means in practice, asking a panel of public-health experts to rate the danger of a range of social scenarios. Some of the experts said it was okay (if not ideal) to have small (and symptom-free) gatherings at home or visit a noncrowded bar or restaurant, but all of them called for caution and restraint. “People should be at home as much as possible,” one advised.
Thankfully, those who stay in have at their disposal a suite of communication technologies that people who lived through previous pandemics couldn’t have fathomed. I recently spoke with some researchers who study communication and social connectedness, asking them how they’d try to replicate the pleasures of socializing in the absence of actually meeting up with friends. Being cooped up at home will likely prompt feelings of loneliness and isolation no matter what, but the following strategies might make the experience of being stuck at home a bit less stifling.
People probably won’t have much trouble remembering to stay in touch with their best friends while stuck at home, but less-regular catchups—such as occasional lunches with co-workers or bumping into an acquaintance at a coffee shop—are more at risk of falling by the wayside, because they’re often impromptu. Melissa Mazmanian, an informatics professor at UC Irvine, told me that it might help to proactively schedule a videochat date that functions as a “low-level exchange of ‘What’s going on with you today?’” to compensate for these lost interactions.