Life During Virustime: Tools for Socializing at a Distance
Since we’re all alone together now, I wanted to share some resources1 I’m looking at for socializing remotely and staying sane.
I won’t focus on working remotely, since a lot of other articles already do that quite well, and ensuring we can keep working seems to be a default concern. We tend to be a little less intentional about our social and mental well being, and just hope it works by magic—that’s the concern I want to address.
Hanging Out With Friends
Instead of going to bars with friends or hanging out together and watching a movie, we’re going to need to socialize remotely. Messaging people on Facebook, WhatsApp, or iMessage is already a default many of us practice, but many of these apps also offer voice and video calling. Setting up a call helps us focus on being with our friends (virtually) and not just asynchronously replying to messages sent hours earlier.
Those things help us with 1:1 interactions (which are great!) but we can still keep the parties going, too. Our hangouts don’t have to shrink, and they don’t have to stop involving alcohol, movies, and games just because we’re not gathering for them, either. Here are some tools I’ve found to help:
- Netflix Party is a Chrome extension that lets you synchronize your Netflix stream with other people and gives you a chat room to talk. Text chatting allows people to “talk” during the movie without interrupting other people who want to hear what’s going on, and you can each independently control the volume and choose whether or not you want closed captioning. It’s basically better than an in-person movie night!
- JQBX is a Spotify app for sharing music and chatting. If music-centered group hangs aren’t a thing you’ve tried yet, do! I totally love them; everyone gets to share some music, and you can alternate between actively hanging out and just listening to some songs your friends have queued up. This does require a Spotify Premium subscription to use.
- Discord is likely a tool you’re already familiar with (if you’re not, it’s a group chat app similar to Slack), but if you haven’t set up a server with friends where you occasionally voice chat, you’re missing out on one of the best features! There’s also a pretty full-fledged feature set around organizing multiplayer video game sessions.
- Tabletop RPGs can be played remotely! This is relatively easy for more narrative campaigns (like some D&D campaigns and any game of Fiasco) but a lot harder if you want to do something with miniatures; for that, Roll20 is a website with a nice set of tools for easier remote RPG play.
Activities To Do
Right now it might seem like your social calendar is decidedly empty. The vacation you were planning next month is canceled, the concert next weekend is totally canceled, and all other events are pending. Sitting inside and reading a book or watching Netflix can help, but what do you do once you’ve finished The Power Broker and binged the entire run of Friends?
Great news; we don’t have to go out to go out! There are a ton of events that are being moved online instead of fully canceled; from nightclub DJ sets to the Met Opera, you can stream them from the comfort of your own home. A lot of these are entirely free or donation-supported too, so if you’ve never gotten into musical theater because it seems too expensive to be worth it or you don’t live in a city that gets a lot of shows, now you can try it out without the cost and effort!
And if you’re running out of things to read or watch? Your local libraries might be shut down, but many of them offer extensive catalogs of online materials (and not just books—movies and music and tons of other things too).
There’s so many things online it’d be hard for me to exhaustively list them, but here’s some I find cool:2
- Broadway, the Met Opera, the Chamber Music Society, and more are streaming past performances online.
- Prefer to walk around a museum? No problem! Over 3,000 museums have their collections available on Google Street View. The Google search interface here is ironically wonky, but if you’re not sure where to start, why not the Met?
- Sad to be missing out on St. Patrick’s Day festivities? Great news! You (yes, you) have tickets to see Flogging Molly on Tuesday, fully from the comfort of your own home.
- You already know all about Netflix and Hulu, but have you heard of Quello, which has extremely high quality concerts and music documentaries?
- Like I said above, you should check out your local library’s online content. Then you should check out Libby, which is a free app that delivers a bunch of that content straight to you. You don’t even have to worry about returning stuff late anymore!
If you feel alone right now, you’re not alone. A ton of people are searching for things to do and like-minded people to hang out with; you don’t need in person events to find new friends. There are ways to find people to socialize with.
- Slack communities tend to be organized around work topics, but there are thousands of them out there. Slofile has a decent list, broken down by interest category.
- Or join a Discord! These tend to be gaming focused, but again, there are thousands of them, and plenty have entirely independent focuses. DiscordMe has the best list I’ve found here.
- If there’s a creator on YouTube or Twitch you like, there’s a good chance they have a Discord of their own, by the way. Some of these are exclusive to Twitch subscribers or Patreons, but many aren’t, and they’re great for finding like minded people.
- Giant subreddits rarely feel like a community, but check out SnoopSnoo and find some of the smaller ones that line up with your interests.
Self-Care and Maintaining Sanity
The internet is great but it also kinda sucks. I’m a fan of spending time playing games and chatting with friends, but the large-scale social “discourse” that winds up happening on Twitter or the endless black holes of Reddit can often just be exhausting.
Taking breaks is important and can help, of course—it appears to be OK to go for a walk outside so long as we’re avoiding touching surfaces and direct contact with other people. So really, do that!
But there are also some technology tools I like for making things better:3
- If you’ve ever read a YouTube comments section and said to yourself “wow, what an insightful and well reasoned discussion,” you probably followed it up by bunkering down for the end-times. The aptly named Hide Youtube Comments extension will remove those comments and restore your sanity.
- Many of my friends are on Facebook Messenger or schedule things with Facebook Events, so I’ll probably never fully leave the Facebook ecosystem. At the same time, the News Feed is something I never want to see again. And again, an extension is here to help.
- Don’t want to kill off your social media habits entirely, but just want to control the time you spend on them? The Freedom app and the StayFocusd extension can both help here.
- Did you know Netflix lets you disable autoplay now on a profile-by-profile basis? Well, they do! And it works on all your devices!
And remember, you are not alone. If you’re completely overwhelmed and just need to talk to someone but don’t know where to turn, the Crisis Text Line has you covered. Also my DMs are open, feel free to hit me up.
Charities and Service
Last but definitely not least, when things get this bad, I usually want to know what I can do to help. Right now the traditional volunteering avenues—that is to say, in-person ones—are a bit contrary to social distancing.
However, there are still tons of places you can give your money and time to, if you’re able. In addition to people fighting the virus itself, the impacts on people without health insurance and people whose work is threatened by this like those in the service industry, events industry, gig workers, and artists are pretty massive. Anything you can do will help. This disease will take all of us working against it. My personal picks are:
- Check out these resources from the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.
- Give money to artists you like and support on Patreon, and look around for people in dire straights who need help on GoFundMe.
- Crisis Text Line, which I mentioned above, needs volunteers to help people in crisis. Check it out!
- Local volunteering lists; there’s things you can do to help out in your neighborhood without needing to get on transit or break social distancing. Here’s a set of ones for people living in New York, but I bet you can find them for your city too. Get groceries for a sick neighbor (and leave them outside the door) or watch kids or pitch in some money for someone in a tight spot. Here are some suggestions from the New York Times, but seriously, do whatever you can do!
If you have any suggestions to add to this article, please let me know! Unlike my usual stance on updating articles, I intend to keep this one alive and add resources as they’re recommended to me (or remove any that turn out to have problems).4
I don’t use all of these, but the ones I don’t come recommended by people I trust. Some of these cost money or have non-free options. I’m not affiliated with any of these products and services, and I don’t make any money from this post. ↩︎
This list is weighted towards New York things, because I live here. But it’s all streaming, so you don’t have to live here! ↩︎
I’m linking to Chrome extensions, but basically all of these have equivalents in Firefox and other browsers that support extensions. ↩︎
The revision history is visible on GitHub for anyone who is curious about it, and I’ll add notes if I change things. You can contact me easiest via Twitter ↩︎