The Internet Feels Nice Again

It’s a Saturday afternoon and I’m fully decked out in workout gear in my room, aping the actions of an enthusiastic fitness instructor as she vogues and gyrates on a livestream. At one point she urges those of us watching at home to send our friends a sweaty, mid-workout selfie with the words: “Hey, this is just to make you smile.”

I get a video from a friend on the opposite coast who’s been following along, too; completely out of breath she says, “Hey, this is just to make you smile.” Cheesy, sure. But it did make me smile.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em

Recording myself mid-workout (in the safe space that is my bedroom while having had no reason to groom myself for weeks) is something I would never have considered pre-quarantine. But as we navigate an unprecedented reality that sees many of us isolating in our homes, it’s becoming increasingly normal to do solo activities as a group—at least on the internet.

A note on the aforementioned workout: it wasn’t just any at-home workout, but one captured in real time, with thousands tuning in from across the globe to share and receive words of encouragement as they, too, #StayHome. Beyond getting my body moving and eking out anxiety with every bead of sweat, I was rewarded with something unexpected: a sense of togetherness. The instructor interacted with fans, and even shut down a troll for his negativity—and we all got to witness it as it happened! What I thought I was too cool for was actually the perfect antidote to my unexpected solitude.

Most IRL activities can be digital

In recent weeks we’ve seen gatherings of all kinds take a digital approach: office happy hours, dates, seminars, entire college curriculums. With the exception of occasionally spotty Wi-Fi, there is little that tech cannot overcome to keep us connected.

During these difficult weeks we’ve also been given the gift of time; shaving off the hours of a commute means more room for connecting and learning digitally, and pushing ourselves to discover what’s out there on the world wide web beyond our classic stand-bys. We’ve been creating more; learning new skills; and adopting new routines; all alongside friends and strangers.

Filling a void

Can digital communication really fill the gap created by social distancing? Knowing that it’s a temporary fix for in-person meet-ups makes opting-in more palatable. When I first got the news that my weekly guitar workshop, for example, was being cancelled and replaced with a video chat, I feared it would be a lot less gratifying than the in-person experience. But when the time came to call into the rehearsal, I was thrilled to have something on my calendar and people to interact with, even if it was just online.

The tools have been there all along

Recently, the New York Times posited that coronavirus has actually made the internet better—that in this difficult time we’re returning to an earlier vision of the web—one centered on collective action and community.

We haven’t fully mastered this new normal. There will still be staff meetings rampant with tech snafus; we’ll continue to hear each other’s pets barking, kids screaming, or roommates blasting Rihanna in the background as we work from home (I thought I was on mute!). But the “good side” of tech—with all its communication tools that we’ve been neglecting—is starting to reveal itself to us again, and providing us with much-needed ways to stay together while we’re apart.

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