Social distancing and ‘shelter at home ‘ orders have left a lot of people isolated and cut off from their friends and support networks. My fam is actually dealing with relatively little disruption, in contrast, because our families and support networks have been largely long distance for going on a decade now. We’ve learned a lot in that time about how to maintain connection with people we can’t see in person. Today, I’m going to share some of what we’ve learned, in hopes it helps other people navigate the current crisis.
Let’s start with the basics:
Phones Are Your Friends
Folks have been using phones to stay in touch long-distance for over 100 years. Don’t be afraid to use them! But don’t be afraid to use them differently either.
- Scheduled calls/texts — I have regularly schedules phone calls each week with my aunt, one sister, and cuilmate. My other sister and I touch base through FB messenger each Sunday to figure out what time will work for us that week. This way we can be sure of giving each other our full attention and plan things to avoid interruptions. We’re typically on the phone together for at least a half an hour and Michon and I can easily be on together for 3 or 4 hours. (That call is scheduled for after the kids’ bedtimes.) I can’t text very well, but if you prefer texting to calls, don’t be afraid to schedule those too!
- Don’t just talk — Do you really think Michon and I spend 3 or 4 hours at a shot just chatting? Of course not! Over the past year we have: taken turns reading Tumblr posts to each other, sang to each other, read books to each other, read webcomics together, worked on writing a book together, and more. Michael and Jaid regularly watch YouTube and Netflix together. They pick a video, press ‘play’ at the same time, and enjoy.
- Just be — sometimes, it’s nice to just BE together. And can do that over the phone. Put on your headphones or ear piece, set the call going, and just listen to each other as you go about your day. You’ll likely find yourselves commenting to each other about whatever is going on with you, ‘I JUST washed the dishes this morning,’ ‘I’m so glad the store wasn’t sold out of these cookies,’ ‘What do you think, chicken or spaghetti for dinner?’ Sometimes, these little bits of normalcy and just being together can make you feel more connected than all the conversations in the world.
- Memerific — like I said, texting isn’t my thing. But nothing stopping you from having fun with texts as well. Trade memes back and forth, play word games together, take pictures of random stuff throughout your day. Have fun with it.
When Your Computers Combine…
Thanks to the internet, there are a lot more options for long distance social than every before in history. These options do require some comfort with navigating your computer — for many of them you need to install software and have a working headset or speakers and microphone. However, many of them also have app versions that can be installed on a smartphone or tablet with the touch of a button.
- Discord — Okay, so, those phone calls with Michon? Most of the time they are actually Discord calls. Discord is a program (and web app, so installation NOT required) for chatting and voice calls. However, it has two major advantages over the phone: it’s free and group calls/chats are ridiculously easy. There are two ways to use Discord.
1) You can join or set up a ‘server’. A server is basically a dedicated invite-only chat house. Each server can have multiple ‘rooms’ (channels), each with different rules (so one channel can be NSFW and the others not). Channels can be text or voice, so you can have a voice channel where folks who want to catch up on family stuff hang out and a voice channel for discussing the latest game. Or whatever. If you have a large family or friend group, a server will be a great way to keep the group going at a distance.
2) You can use it like any messenger program that allows group discussions. Become ‘friends’ with people, message them, have voice calls, add other people to the chat or calls as you wish.
- Zoom — Zoom is a program that allows for voice and video chat, and screen sharing. It is one of the easier options, because once you get installed, anyone who wants to talk can just send you a link invite. As soon as you click the link, the Zoom meeting room opens.
- Kast — You know the watch-videos-together thing I said Michael and Jaid do? Well, Kast (formerly rabb.it) was designed for just that kind of thing. You and your friend(s) would go into a ‘room’ together, the person hosting the ‘room’ puts on a video from a streaming service or Youtube, and everyone can watch the video together. I haven’t used Kast since it stopped being rabb.it, supposedly it also does multi-person video chat or will screenshare games you are playing now. Free and paid versions.
Roll the Dice
Okay, this is already a long post, so I’ll keep this last section short: there are lots of options for playing games together online. And I don’t just mean Fortnight. Steam Games has a ‘Tabletop Simulator‘ ($20) that “includes 15 classics like Chess, Poker, Jigsaw Puzzles, Dominoes, and Mahjong” and you can buy content for other tabletop games as well.