How the Internet can help us deal with social distancing

If staring constantly at our phones, living an online life, was what kept us from really enjoying what was happening around us before the pandemic, today the situation is quite different. Humans are social beings and if they can’t be next to other people, they sure find another way to communicate. During the pandemic, that way was the Internet.

Only in the first week of lockdown in Portugal, during March, MEO (the leading telecommunications company in the country) reported a 35% increase in wireless Internet and another 10% in mobile Internet, according to Público, a Portuguese newspaper. On a more global level, the influencer marketing platform Obviously, based in New York, USA, analysed 260 of its own worldwide campaigns and registered a 76% raise in the daily accumulation of likes in Instagram’s posts with the hashtag #ad, during the first two weeks of March. The technology and social media improvements – like virtual dinners and other events online, new group games, Netflix Party – developed during the pandemic and its consequent lockdown in most countries helped facilitating virtual connections.

Besides the need to keep the relationships that already existed, human beings also look for everyday social interactions, something hard to find during lockdown – at least at the beginning. According to the Greater Good Magazine, researchers believe these weak ties are very important for stabilizing social networks, allowing us to be more resilient in stressful times for our communities, and to help us learn from people with different viewpoints, if we have diversity in our groups. And most important in these times: this kind of social interaction gives us the sense of normality.

One of the researchers, Gillian Sandstrom has been studying online meetups between strangers during the pandemic and the participants are reacting similarly to what they did before – after talking to a stranger online, people feel less lonely, better about the world and they trust more in others. And what is the best way to meet strangers online? Dating apps or websites.

“The use of these apps has become a compensation for the impossibility of finding people spontaneously when going out”, said the psychologist to Veja, a Brazilian magazine. The greater the degree of social distance, the more frequent are the interactions. According to the same source, in Spain, a country especially punished by the new coronavirus, a survey showed a 94% increase of Tinder usage among people under 35 years old, during the first month of lockdown. Between February 20th and March 26th, the exchanges of messages around the world were longer by 35%, on average.

“Talking to someone, no matter where they are, helps people feeling less lonely”, says Elie Seidman, Tinder’s executive director to Veja. With this in mind, the passport paid resource of the app (that allowed the users to contact other users all over the world) was released for free on the end of March – three days later Tinder recorded a historic swipe record, with more than 3 billion interactions worldwide.

Streaming services known for their characteristic self-isolation capacities also experienced a huge growth during the pandemic. According to Vox, on April, Netflix announced the 16 million new subscribers it got during the first quarter of the year instead of the 7 million that were predicted – 9 of the 16 million signed up in March, during several countries’ lockdowns.

Nevertheless, they also had to adapt – that’s how Netflix Party started, now renamed as Teleparty. This feature synchronizes video playback and adds group chat to Netflix, Disney, Hulu and HBO, allowing the users to watch movies or TV shows together while apart. To make people stay at home, there were even an advertising student and a freelance copywriter of Miami Ad School Europe in Hamburg, Germany, that came up with the idea of spoiling some of the most famous Netflix’s shows on virtual billboards, according to Forbes.

Regardless of the way we choose to use the Internet to help us getting through the pandemic and social distancing, Sandstrom enhances the importance of communication, suggesting that talking to others may help. “We’re all going through something together, something we have in common,” she says. “With so much uncertainty around the pandemic, we all want to know how people are doing, how they’re coping, and if they have any good ideas around handling the challenges. Maybe this is an opportunity to think about how those people matter more and provide more meaning in our lives than we realized”.

Rute Cardoso


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