Social distancing has been tough on all us. Now that it has been three weeks, even longer for some, cabin fever has started to set in. Just run a search on YouTube or watch any of the late-night talk shows (all being filmed from home, of course) and you'll find tons of video clips of the creative things people have been doing to keep themselves entertained at home.
But no matter how much we can do on our own, we all crave social interaction beyond the just a partner and/or pet and/or kids. And this is where technology can come in.
Which means those who aren't tech-savvy are scrambling to figure out how to use that video thingy on their phones or call their tech-savvy kid or grandkid in hopes that they can walk them through, step-by-step, how to download a video chat app and then actually use it. (Why not? They have nothing else to do!)
As I have been experimenting with various services, here are a few worth considering to keep in touch with friends and family in unique ways while continuing to stay at home and practice social distancing.
What sets this video chatting app apart from the others is that you can connect with friends as well as play games with them. Video chat with up to eight friends at a time then enjoy some of the built-in games. With trivia, for example, one person selects a specific category and the questions appear on your mobile device or computer screen. Select from the multiple-choice answers then see what everyone else answered and who got it right. In the end, one person is declared winner. There's also a version of the popular game Head's Up where once person sees a word and has to get the others to guess what it is using other words. Another game called Chips and Guac is like a clean version of Cards Against Humanity. Grab a beer or glass of wine, some snacks, and sit down with friends while you guys play these games together. Or you can simply video chat without that distraction if you prefer. The ony downside I noticed: depending on everyone's Internet connection, when you have four or more people, you might hear a slight echo. Short calls are still managable but it can get annoying after a long period of time.
Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype
The Zoom meeting has become one of the most talked about ways of communicating online for 2020. And while the service has been plagued with issues surrounding security and potential hacking, people are still flocking to this platform in order to hold team meetings as well as communicate with friends and family. Once reserved for business meetings, you can share a meeting ID with someone and everyone can sign in to a call. The service isn't free but most people who already have a business account are using it for personal reasons today. The site had a 40-minute limit for its basic service but they've since eliminated that for K-12 students.
Other options people have been turning to instead include Microsoft Teams and Skype. It mainly comes down to what you might have been used to using for work prior to this pandemic, and/or what your company has provided you with as you transition to working from home.
This app has been the long-running choice for iOS and Android smartphone users to send instant messages to one another without having to resort to SMS. And while most people use it to share text-based messages, videos, photos, emojis, and animated GIFs, it can also be used for video calls. You can chat with up to four people at once using the app. Of course everyone has to have the app and be on your contacts list.
This is an interesting app that has actually been around for years but is getting particular attention now due to social distancing. The idea is to download this Chrome extension to the Chrome browser than log in to Netflix alongside others through and sync video playback so you can watch together, even while you're in separate homes and using different accounts. Additionally, you can engage in group chats to discuss events as they happen, sharing emojis, screenshots, and GIFs. Oh, if this had only been on my radar in time when my friends and I were watching and discussing Love is Blind!
The de facto choice for iOS device users, including iPhones, iPads, and MacBook computers, is FaceTime which allows for simply video calling among Apple devices. You can talk with up to 32 people, so get an entire class or office team together, or gather the extended family to wish grandma a happy 90th birthday. In order to use Group FaceTime, however, you need a device that can support iOS 12.1 or higher. Call the first person, swipe up, click "+ Add Person" and call the next, or select multiple people at once and ring them all together. You can even chat as an Animoji or Memoji if you prefer, if you're still in your PJs or having a make-up free day or haven't shaved your beard in a month and want to stay incognito.
This app isn't designed for helping you communicate with others while social distancing, but it can help you pass the time and find a better way to communicate with others once this is all over. Learn a new language from the site, which is now offering free courses for three months for students and seven-day free trials for others. You can learn any language from Spanish to Japanese. Courses can take anywhere from 150-250 hours or so, which means it'll take you half a year if you do an hour a day. But if you have time to spare, you might just be able to power through a course in a few months and come up with a whole new language in your repertoire. Otherwise, you might find that it's worth it to sign up and continue learning once our social distancing period has ended. Some of you may be looking to spruce up your resumes in a difficult job market, and having a second (or third) language in your arsenal can only help.
Mobile App Games
These games are usually used as time-wasters - the app you use while in a waiting room, while watching TV or waiting for a friend to arrive at the coffee shop. Games range from classics like Scrabble Go to new ones like CodyCross. Connect with friends, typically through a social media account like Facebook, and you guys can play together. Battle one another in a game of scrabble, chatting through the in-app instant messaging while you play. It's certainly not the same as sitting face-to-face with the person. But it will do for now.
Messenger for Kids
This app will be a lifesaver for both you and your kids. Even if you are the type of parent who is really strict about screen time, those rules sort of have to go out the window in our current situation. The Messenger for Kids app is connected to a parent's Facebook account and is a specific portal where kids can chat with only approved contacts. These might include kids if your friends and family as well as family members like their grandparents and cousins. Once set up, kids can send text-based messages and video chat one-on-one or in groups. They can do this while simultaneously playing games together. The app also has some cute games like drawing. And kids can send messages to the parents via Messenger and vice versa. At a time when kids can't interact with one another any other way, video chatting a few times a day is a great way to let them stay in touch.
Video games can actually be a great stress reliever for both parents and kids, especially after long days that seem to meld into one another with no time away from your immediate family members. Throw on a pair of headphones, boot up a first-person shooter game, log into a cloud subscription, and join your buds to block off the world for an hour or two. Chat through the headset while you collaborate in the game and chat about your daily life. Kids can enjoy this as well to give parents some quiet time. They can log in online using games like Just Dance and play remotely with friends, viewing one another on the camera.
These smartwatches and activity trackers sort of promote communicating with friends and family without actually having to say a word. Join daily or weekly challenges to meet step goals with others then keep on top of progress as the week goes on. It's a great way to stay motivated to go for walks, do some exercise, and get up and stretch every so often while you work from home. Watching your friends' steps creep higher and higher as they go for a lunchtime jog (in their own neighborhood while keeping a safe distance away from others), work out in their home gyms, or do yoga in the living room, will give you the kick in the butt to keep up with them. Set up friendly competitions with long-term goals you can work toward, like the person with the least weekly wins throughout the social distancing period has to buy drinks on your first day out to a restaurant once it's safe for them to re-open.