While people miss out on regular activities due to social distancing, the internet is providing options to counter loneliness.
The coronavirus has put an end to socialising for a massive proportion of the planet’s population, as even countries with the most lax lockdown rules shut down cafes, restaurants, and other places where people gather.
For many that means spending their entire day either at home alone or with closely related family members.
The need to socialise is hardwired into the human psyche, with many studies linking loneliness to mental illnesses, such as depression, and higher rates of premature death, including suicide.
Psychologists describe human beings as social animals, who rely on each other for feelings of self-worth and support in times of emotional stress.
Therefore, the longer lockdowns continue, the longer humans are deprived of a core need for their mental wellbeing.
Fortunately, unlike victims of pandemics centuries or even decades ago, humans have some form of relief by way of the online world.
Social media sites like Twitter, are reporting a jump in active users of around 20 percent despite lower advertising revenues.
The internet while lacking the intimacy of meeting a friend in a cafe, for example, can connect people separated by any distance.
Apps for socialising
Apple’s Facetime video calling app has changed the way patients in hospitals interact with family members. Due to social distancing requirements, even gravely ill people cannot have anyone besides medical staff at their bedsides. Video calling apps, therefore give patients a way of staying in touch with loved ones.
But it’s not just hospitals experiencing a change in behaviour, the internet is helping to provide alternatives for everything between Ramadan sermons to reading clubs.
For Muslims, the holy month of Ramadan has been heavily impacted by the pandemic. Lockdowns mean that mosques, usually the site of special evening prayers and iftars, are no longer accessible.
Apps like the video conferencing app Zoom give Muslims a replacement to some degree. In the UK, a number of mosques have taken their sermons online, thereby addressing the spiritual needs of believers but also addressing the need to connect with other people.
For those less spiritually inclined, and maybe in want of some fun, there are options but some come at a price.
Online night clubs have also taken off thanks to Zoom, with people payings as much as $80 for a ‘private room’. Screengrabs shared on Instagram show virtual partygoers dressed up and dancing in separate chat windows, as a DJ plays out tracks over the group chat.
Artists, such as Lady Gaga and Billy Eilish are holding online concerts for fans across the world, which are free to view.
For those looking for more intellectual stimulation, online book clubs are also becoming popular using video conferencing apps.
But like real life social activities, online socialising is not without its risks. Experts warn of greater exposure to fake news as people turn to the internet for entertainment and there is also the rise of a new phenomenon known as Zoom bombing.
The trend involves hackers or uninvited guests gatecrashing a chat to troll or bombard groups with explicit content - sometimes during online meetings or conferences.
Authorities in the UK, for example, are so concerned by the phenomenon that they have tasked the country’s National Crime Agency to investigate allegations of abuse.