One month ago, ‘social distancing’ and ‘social curbing’ could have been episode titles in a new season of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror. The current state of the world certainly has some parallels with the show’s dystopian futures, but contrary to its usual hypothesis, technology isn’t the enemy — it’s becoming our saviour.
At the time of writing, New York’s restaurants, theatres, bars and clubs have shut their doors. Las Vegas has closed its casinos. Glastonbury is cancelled. Residents in France, Spain and Italy are facing fines if found on the streets “without good reason”. The latter has banned weddings and funerals, and the Vatican is live-streaming Easter to avoid mass gatherings. The social freedoms that we took for granted are disappearing with every news update. Staying in is, by law, the new going out. But with the temporary (we hope) ban on traditional leisure activities, a new form of digital socialising is emerging.
The figures show that people are rapidly shifting to digital life. According to San Francisco web-security company Cloudflare, Italy’s internet traffic spiked by 30 per cent after mandatory lockdown. While many businesses prepare for a major recession, shares in Silicon Valley-based video conferencing platform Zoom have shot up by 59 per cent. TikTok was the most-downloaded non-game app in the world in February, with installs up 96 per cent year-on-year. Meanwhile, online gaming marketplace Steam reported an all-time high of 20.3 million simultaneous players on the afternoon of March 15.
Now is the time to embrace whatever hidden geekiness you possess. Bring out the PlayStation headset, memorise the capital cities, start a Words With Friends game with your mum. With creative online alternatives to popular pastimes cropping up almost hourly, we’ve rounded up our favourite options to refill your cancelled G-cal.
Live music-streaming platform Boiler Room has launched a new series broadcasting straight from artists’ homes and private spaces. The streams are going direct to audiences, removing the need for production teams to be present — in line with social distancing guidelines. The first stream started strong with a set from The Black Madonna and on 20 March, Australian house producer Mall Grab will take over, delivering a Friday-night rave to your living room. In addition, each show gives you the option to donate to a charity — this week, it’s the Global FoodBanking Network.
Image credit: courtesy of Houseparty
Launched in 2016, this group video app became popular with teenagers due to its links with Snapchat and Fortnite. Now, it’s the over-thirties who are downloading it at record speed and hosting ‘house parties’ for up to eight friends (definitely enough to call it a party) by using a unique invite code. You can lock the chat with a set number of friends, or leave it open for others to drop in. A super-easy way to video chat with a big group, Houseparty also offers in-app games such as Heads Up, Trivia, and Cards Against Humanity. You can share your screen and leave ‘Facemail’ for your friends and family in different time zones.
The Japanese term for “drinking online”, ‘on-nomi’ is trending. With the closure of pubs and bars, the after-work drink embedded in so many cultures, from the UK to Japan, is being recreated using video conferencing platforms such as Zoom or FaceTime. It’s important to note that excessive drinking impairs the immune system, so stick to one unit or soft drinks. Zoom is also being used for coffee breaks with friends for those working from home.
Image credit: courtesy of Netflix
Netflix was quick to react with a Google Chrome extension joyfully titled Netflix Party, enabling groups of friends to watch series and films together at a safe distance using a synchronised video playback — so you don’t have to go through the rigmarole of all trying to press play at the same time. The extension offers a group-chat function to get the banter going about whether Love Is Blind’s Giannina is actually self-sabotaging, or whether she just hates her fiancé.
Image credit: courtesy of Masterclass
This platform has been operating largely under the radar in most countries apart from frequent YouTube ads with the ever-calming Margaret Atwood. Masterclass offers distance learning in a range of subjects, from writing classes with Atwood and Malcolm Gladwell, to cooking with Gordon Ramsay, filmmaking with David Lynch and Martin Scorsese, and self-expression with RuPaul. The site has a student hub where classmates can discuss their course, share their work and give each other feedback. At US$15 per month, it could be a worthwhile activity to try with a friend or a way to connect with other creatives around the world.
Image credit: courtesy of Peloton
Heartwarming videos are being shared across Twitter of fitness instructors holding workout sessions in the courtyard of apartment blocks so that residents can join in by looking out of their windows. Meanwhile, stock for the live-stream home workout company Peloton spiked this week with a 13 per cent rise. Usually prohibitively expensive, Peloton is extending the 30-day trial period for its app (which doesn’t require the bike) to 90 days in the US, UK and Canada, and offering live-stream yoga and cardio classes that also don’t require the purchase of equipment. YouTube, of course, has a monopoly on free workouts with programmes for all ages and abilities.
Image credit: courtesy of Nintendo
Lana Del Rey’s idea of fun — playing video games — is now a fully acceptable pastime for adults. For those millennials who have been out of the game for some time, Mario Kart is still available, but now it’s called Mario Kart Tour and there’s a multiplayer mode. Fortnite: Battle Royale, for those still uninitiated, involves The Hunger Games-style fights to the death on an island with 100 others. It’s basically total anarchy, which might just be the release you need, and there’s a squad mode that allows you to team up with three friends. Pokémon Go has adapted the plot of the game for indoor use, while family favourites Words With Friends and Boggle are great options to play with older, isolated relatives.