How to Be Social While Social Distancing

Couple on video call

Kate_sept2004 / Getty Images 

From social distancing to self-quarantine or isolation, being apart from people doesn't have to mean being bored and lonely.

Isn't it strange when all of a sudden terms like "quarantine" and "self distancing" become common parlance? But with the advent of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) and its knack for speedy travel, we are learning the importance of "flattening the curve" by keeping distance from one another. Strange times indeed.

In Italy, people have taken to the balconies to serenade their neighborhoods, however, I'm not so sure American cities (or American people, for that matter) are designed to facilitate such a poignant endeavor. But even if we can't sing together from balconies, there are a number of ways in which we don't have to get through this pandemic alone.

Here are nine strategies for keeping the "social" in social distancing:

The classic phone call

Writer Trish Hall asks in an article in Vogue if coronavirus will bring back the phone call. "I had almost forgotten about the simple pleasures of the phone," she begins. "Remember actual conversations? Until a few days ago, they were so passé." Ain't that the truth? I have entire conversations that unfold over text, which is great when working hard and rushing around doing errands. But with the slower, lonelier pace of social distancing, picking up the phone and hearing real voices can go a long way. And of course, bonus points for a land line and princess phone.

Facetime and video calls

Imagine, we have a little box in our pocket with which we can see someone in real time and have a live conservation. We are living in The Jetsons! I don't know a lot of adults who regularly use things like Facetime for calls, but the teens in my life use it more than they use audio calling. Having some face time in times of isolation is a good thing.

Handwritten letters

My Victorian alter ego gets all aflutter when thinking about writing by hand. (Exhibit A: 7 mighty benefits of writing by hand.) There is so much to be said for taking pen to paper and sending it off for a journey to a lucky recipient. It may not be such an obvious way to socialize, but it's lovely, and we could all use some extra loveliness in times like this.

If you are concerned about putting extra pressure on the postal workers, I doubt that this is going to become a big trend. But just in case, If you haven't already done so, you can cancel the junk mail you receive to offset the burden. (And if you are worried about coronavirus spreading by mail, it's unlikely to happen.)

The cozy nooks of social media

If you are on social media and have managed to keep it a peaceful place, then lucky you! You may find refuge there. For those of us whose social media is more like a combat sport, this is the time to find the sweet places. There are countless communities, groups, pages, et cetera that are lovely and wonderful; find a supportive tribe and settle in.

Online book club

For example, here's a cozy nook: My favorite nature writer, Robert McFarlane, had the idea to start a reading group on Twitter. His work is such a true pleasure to read, and he is wonderful at building community – so this effort doesn't come as much of a surprise, aside from what a great idea it is. If you are on Twitter, this would be a fun and enlightening group with whom to read a book. If not on Twitter, check with your library or bookseller to enquire about other online book groups – or start your own.

Virtual multiplayer games

There is a whole world going on amongst gamers playing virtual video games. I probably got that sentence all wrong because I am not one of them – but I do know that there is a lot of socializing going on there. On the other hand, I have played no small amount of chess and Words with Friends (which is Scrabble-ish) on multiplayer mobile apps, and it is fun; fefinitely something worth investigating.

The imaginary water cooler

TreeHuggers have been working remotely since the beginning of time; or since the beginning of TreeHugger, at least. We have this down to a fine art. One of the things that has been crucial in the fight against "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" has been our virtual water cooler on Skype. It's part formal / part informal; we talk shop and swap ideas, but we also gossip, discuss current events, and do all the other things that once happened at the proverbial water coolers of lore. If you are suddenly working remotely and have work colleagues who you will be missing, I highly recommend finding a place to hang out online during the workday.

Slack side channels

Akin to the virtual water cooler, Slack side channels that may veer a bit off work topics can be a salve for transitioning to a work from home situation. Our new parent company, Dotdash, has a "cat chat" and "dog dash" channel where people share photos of their, yes, cats and dogs. It's such a nice little pick-me-up.

Watch movies together, apart

Movie theaters in my neck of the woods are closed, as they are in cities from coast to coast. While we all may be accustomed to watching movies solo at this point, there is something lost when not watching with some friends or a bigger crowd. I was trying to figure out how to set up a Zoom conference call with friends thinking we could all try to sync a movie together, when my teen said, "oh, there are apps for that." Duh, of course there are! In fact, here are 10 apps to watch videos with online friends.

Have you found other ways to stay social during times of isolation? Leave a comment and share the wealth.