CULTURE

Innovative Ways to Connect in a Time of Social Distance

Zoom party: Innovative ways to stay connected while maintaining social distance

Is it possible to stay connected to friends and far-away family in a time of mandatory social distancing? Actually, yes. Video calling apps like Zoom have exploded as a platform for digital connection in lieu of hanging with friends at a favorite bar or restaurant during this time of mandatory social distance. Our correspondent Julie Chang Murphy has curated a list of some of the best and most innovative ways to connect digitally in a time of social distance, including ideas for great virtual hangouts, and how to host a successful digital party or virtual happy hour.

mandatory social distancing: bane or blessing?

Jean-Paul Sartre famously once proclaimed: “L’enfer, c’est les autres.Hell is other people. 

Sometimes, living in New York, we find this to be unalterably true.

One of the first lessons one learns as an anthropology student is that throughout millennia, it’s been proven that human beings are social animals. We rely on cooperation. Not only to survive physically – but also to maintain a sense of well-being.

Innovative ways to stay connected while maintaining social distance

Innovative ways to stay connected while maintaining social distance.

Living in New York City, though, might cause one to turn that belief on its head. In the largest city in the country, with potential social interactions everywhere, we are known to avoid eye contact with strangers at all costs. And to view with suspicion anyone who says “hi” to us out of context.

Sometimes, we even cancel plans with our own friends because the couch just looks so inviting after a long week. That’s not just me, right?

So you would think that the enforced social distancing mandated to try to stem the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus would be a secretly welcome relief to the citizens of Gotham, right?

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Quite the contrary, dear reader.

At this historic moment, people around the world are understandably yearning for social connection. Even the ones who live in New York.

Zoom to the rescue

Last weekend, nearly 600,000 people downloaded Zoom, a video conferencing app that has been popular with telecommuters. Now it is also being employed for group activities as varied as remote learning and virtual happy hours. Harvard University is conducting all of its undergraduate and grad school courses on Zoom (the company has made its services free for K-12 schools in the United States, Italy and Japan).

The New York Times notes that Zoom has blossomed overnight “into a cultural phenomenon used to host parties, concerts, church services and art shows.” 

innovative ways to stay connected while maintaining social distance

Innovative ways to stay connected while maintaining social distance.

In the absence of restaurants, bars, and concerts, digital hangouts are the place to see and be seen– sometimes even in your coziest pair of sweat pants.

Whether you’re new to this or a seasoned virtual social butterfly, here are some fun and innovative ways to connect with friends and far-away family during this potentially isolating time.

Get ready to party like it’s 2020!

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While there are a plethora of gaming apps out there, for the purposes of prioritizing face-to-face interactions, our ideas use Zoom as the platform of choice. However, it’s important that you utilize all of the privacy settings – otherwise you could get “Zoom bombed.”

It’s super easy to get started and use. Once you sign up for an account, just schedule a meeting and invite your friends, who will get a unique link to use in order to join.

One hot tip: under “Video Settings,” click on “Touch Up My Appearance” to give your face an instant dewy glow. See, doesn’t #stayhome sound better and better?

Now, get ready to be “the hostess with the mostest” without even providing cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Zoom party: Innovative ways to stay connected while maintaining social distance.

Innovative Ways to Connect in a Time of Social Distance

1. Game Night:

Actual board games might require too much coordination. Each person would need a physical game and coordinate the moving of pieces so that it corresponds to each player. We’re trying to have fun, not give ourselves more stress!

Forge a digital connection while you keep your social distance: a Pictionary party on Zoom. Courtesy Photo.

Stick to games like Scattergories, Pictionary, Name that Tune, Charades or Cards Against Humanity (which you can download online) for ease of use. You could also host a Trivia Night with your most entertaining friend acting as the MC. Need trivia questions? Check them out here or better yet, customize your own.

2. Start a Club:

If you have a standing book club already, move it online. If not, it’s a great time to start one. We always have lots of suggestions for a good book. But you don’t have to limit yourself to reading.

Forge a digital connection while you keep your social distance: create virtual hangouts, and host a craft beer tasting party on Zoom.

Try a craft beer tasting, draw one another’s portraits, bake something from the same cookbook or if your crew is musically inclined, have a jam session. A central theme will help give your group chat some structure and novelty.

3. Group Exercise:

We know we’re not the only ones who have nearly eaten through our emergency stash of treats. Hold each other accountable by breaking a sweat together. Pick a common exercise like the 7-minute workout or challenge your group to a burpee contest.

Zoom party: virtual hangouts are among the best ways to stay connected while maintaining social distance

Zoom party: virtual hangouts are among the best ways to stay connected while maintaining social distance.

Peloton makes it easy for you to exercise together either in live or on-demand classes, and you can cheer one another on using “high fives.” (Full disclosure, our CEO is on the board of Peloton Interactive). Get the gang together three or four times a week to keep your bodies and minds healthy.

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4. Go Back to School:

Have you always wanted to learn how to watercolor paint, write poetry or speak Spanish? There are a lot of talented people who might be in need of new gigs so finding a willing teacher shouldn’t be too hard.

One of the best virtual hangouts

Forge a digital connection while you keep your social distance: set up virtual hangouts and take an online cooking class together.

Get a group of interested friends together for a once or twice a week virtual lesson and emerge with a new hobby or skill. Alternatively, have your friends share their skills in mini-lessons for free!

5. Movie Night:

Zoom allows people to share their screens so it’s possible to watch the same movie with friends from afar and banter on the side in the group chat feature. Your friends who don’t subscribe to HBO will love you. No better time than now to start Game of Thrones!

the best virtual hangouts

One of the best virtual hangouts: Netflix Party Mode. Courtesy Photo.

Netflix also has its own program, appropriately named, Netflix Party, that synchronizes video playback and enables messaging so you can immediately share your love for Jerry from Cheer in real time.

6. Karaoke Party:

A video of locked down neighbors singing on their balconies in Italy recently went viral, inspiring the world. While most of us here in the States do not have similar architectural setups, that doesn’t mean we can’t raise our voices together.

virtual hangouts

Forge a digital connection while you keep your social distance: set up virtual hangouts and have a karaoke singalong.

There’s nothing like singing your heart out to Don’t Stop Believing en masse to temporarily cure all ills. For this, you’ll need to download and pull up one other platform, called Watch2gether. This will allow the party to watch the same karaoke videos at the same time and playback rate. People can request songs in the chat feature or come up with a list beforehand, so there are no interruptions to the at-home concert.

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7. Virtual Museum Visits:

Cancelled spring break vacations? Us too. Fortunately, museums around the world have stepped it up and made some of their exhibits rooms available for virtual tours. Take a tour on your own and then talk about your favorite pieces or share a screen and “walk through” the museum together. Either way, it gives everyone something to talk about other than the current crisis.

8. Jazz Concerts

Our friends at Jazz at Lincoln Center have opened up their incredible archive of iconic performances, and you can chill with your friends and family and listen to some of the best jazz concerts from the past 10 years.. 

Head over to YouTube to watch:

Innovative Ways to Connect in a Time of Social Distance

We can’t wait for this all to be over and being with our friends and family IRL. But in the meantime, thank goodness for technology! Choose the perfect custom backdrop on Zoom, and press play on a great playlist. When are you planning to host your first digital dance party?

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Crediting her training as a cultural anthropologist at Wellesley College, Julie has immersed herself in various industries in the last 15 years including fashion design, event planning, and fitness. Julie lives in New York where she loves trying every ramen and dumpling restaurant with her husband and three children. She finds joy in bold prints, biographies of fierce women, kickboxing. And spending way too long finding the perfect polish color to express her mood.

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