In the past, spending too much time on digital devices was considered negative. Too much time endlessly scrolling on Facebook meant not enough time connecting with people who matter in real life. Too much time binging on Netflix meant not spending enough time finishing that important piece of work that is due tomorrow.
Too much screen time has also led to a higher degree of loneliness in modern society. While people are always connected with the broader world, the barrier of a screen made it difficult to connect with people in meaningful ways.
However, with the current social isolation status quo, it has allowed the conversation to shift from the time spent on their technological devices to the specific purposes and goals of that time.
While in-person interaction is, of course, ideal, there are a variety of different technological innovations that can encourage us to stay connected to each other during COVID-19 as opposed to pulling us further apart.
Loneliness, which can casually be defined as “being alone,” actually reflects something deeper. In reality, encapsulates the feeling of not having anyone to connect with, in a deep and meaningful way.
In the past, the effects of social isolation have been studied in certain groups such as astronauts, professionals who work from home, and the elderly to try to truly understand the causes of loneliness and how we can work to overcome it.
Even before beginning social isolation in Australia somewhere between one-quarter and one-third of adults experienced feelings of loneliness. These feelings can make us more susceptible to serious medical conditions such as higher blood pressure.
Loneliness can also lead to decreased motivation which can affect performance at work and relationships with family.
In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, once physiological needs and safety needs are met, the next level of human needs is around love and belonging. This reinforces the idea of an emotional foundation of relationships which are essential before being able to pursue higher-level emotional, academic, or career goals.
The opposite of loneliness is connection. The opposite of despair is gratitude.
Therefore, we need to find ways of connecting with each other and cultivating an attitude of gratitude to remind ourselves of what we have. This can include friends and family, even though they might be distant, our health, and technology that can help keep us connected to each other.
Just like certain technological innovations such as alarm apps on our phones have replaced physical alarm clocks for many years, the best way to connect through technology is finding opportunities for connection every day consistent with your normal routine. For example, instead of exercising at the gym, participate in an online exercise video or video chat with a friend to work out together.
Instead of the usual card game of bridge at the local community centre, move the game to an online platform.
If you have extra time during the day since being temporarily stood down or because of your regular evening activities have been cancelled, use the internet as a resource to learn something new.
One of the ways of feeling positive about your day is to go to sleep each night with a sense of accomplishing something tangible. Learning a new skill, idea, or language can definitely help with that feeling. Furthermore, it can allow you to upskill for when the economy starts to recover.
For academic and business-related courses, Udemy is a great place to start searching for hundreds of classes from around the world on topics ranging from digital marketing to world history.
For people who are dreaming about their next holiday and want to get a head start on learning the language to communicate with locals, Duolingo has everything you need to start learning a variety of languages from the very beginning through advanced lessons.
If you are interested in one-off courses to learn a new skill or master a new dish, organisations like laneway learning could be a great fit.
When going to the movies or spending time with friends watching TV is not currently possible, hosting a Facebook watch party can help you recreate this experience.
Using the Facebook platform, invite your friends to watch a movie together at a certain time, say Saturday night at 7:00 pm. At that time, sign and choose something to watch.
While the movie is running, have a Zoom call with the same friends so that you can ask questions of moments that were unclear, cry during moments of distress, and cheer when the hero turns out victorious.
Afterwards, you can each brew yourself a coffee and catch up on the past week.
Similar to the watch party, a digital dinner party lets you share a meal with friends digitally. Here is how you do it:
These virtual experiences help re-create in-person ones and provide an opportunity to change your evening routine and have something to look forward to.
Technology has enabled us to be able to volunteer and help others while continuing to self isolate during covid-19. Volunteering can range from organising meal rosters for people in your community who are struggling to afford food or offering to run an online training session to share a skill that you have or a piece of knowledge that you want to share.
It is clear that volunteering not only benefits the recipient but also the volunteer.
Especially during these times, lots of organisations are looking for others to assist and it could be the perfect opportunity for you to help.
John Cacioppo, a former world leader on loneliness, believes that while technology can sometimes increase loneliness, technology can also be a valuable tool to develop and maintain human connections and relationships as well as increase social capital. If we maintain our routines and social connections with friends, then these catch-ups will be able to seamlessly continue in person in the future.