Before the coronavirus, screens were society’s enemy & social media was its partner-in-crime.
We preached digital detoxes in the name of our health. We shunned Facebook and Instagram (regardless of whether we carried that out) for their disturbing use of misinformation and promotion of unattainable lifestyles.
But, like most of the normal aspects of our lives, this has quickly been thrown out the window in the rapid adjustment to our new normal. Screen time and social media have never been more fashionable—I’m looking at you, Zoom happy hour, Zoom weddings, Instagram Live dance parties, Facetimes with trainers, with therapists, with anyone under the sun who has a free moment to spare.
These virtual moments, while lovely, are much like our flimsy and unprotective masks we bought on Amazon last week— thinly veiling the gravity of the situation we find ourselves in. The influx of social media posts regarding mental health are beginning to serve as a reminder that our sanity as a result of our quarantines can and will take a toll, and that, despite calls and the impetus to be productive with our newfound abundance of time, escapism is often what’s needed in the midst of a global emergency, changing life circumstances and fragile financials. And to be clear, these are what the luckiest among us are experiencing—those who are not essential workers, who are not dealing with seeking reemployment or the illness or death of a loved one.
It seems everyone is in dire need of some escapism and lightheartedness.
The app TikTok, which posts user-generated short videos and skits, has never been more popular –they are were nearing 2 billion app downloads. Currently, there are 1.4 Billion videos on the app tagged #WerkItFromHome. Much of this is due to the influx of “Quarantine Content” or “Carona Content,” filmed by ordinary people documenting the trivialities of life at home. TikTok was once an app deemed exclusive to young teenagers, but adults, home with their children for uninterrupted amounts of time, are downloading the app and trying to learn the dances that populate it.
On Instagram, influencers and meme generators have helped to continue to develop our collective sense of humor (See: photos below).
We’re engaging with each other online more than ever, tagging in each other in custom bingo cards, drawing challenges, and throwbacks photos. As declared by Vox, “Now is the time to post with abandon.” People are shaving their heads, bleaching their hair, and documenting every step of baking bread for us to see.
These bizarre and often monotonous tasks, while avoiding the seriousness of our current world, are uniting us online more than we have ever been. Starved for connection, touch, and interaction, we scroll with abandon attempting at least a glimpse into the lives of those we once interacted with on a daily basis. As said by Tulane University student Rachel Bogin, “I find myself scrolling through Instagram a lot now, which I used to never do. I didn’t care to consume [Instagram] that much, but I find myself scrolling through as a means of trying to attain human connection—seeing what people up to, instead of going to a common area to connect with people in person.”
Social Media can now be more discouraging than ever, with individuals and families posting idyllic photos of many a meal consumed in simplistic peace. It also reveals our enormous class differences and divides—those who are lucky to have large family homes in which to spread out for the duration of the crisis, and those who struggled to find a place to go. Away from our screens, Coronavirus is not, as Madonna called it, ‘the great equalizer.”
But on screen, if for a moment, we are as close as we can get to being equals: our eyes staring at the same content, seeking the same escapism, relishing in the same dark humor about a global pandemic with a rising death toll. We are all sharing and reposting videos of the heroism and community the world now experiences on a daily basis.
A crisis like COVID-19 has flipped quite nearly every taboo on its head — a catastrophe where the best thing to do is nothing and where sitting at home all day can literally save lives. Our fast-paced and burnout-centric culture has suddenly been, out of necessity, done away with — stripping many of us down to our essentials. And in that same way, everything we told ourselves that was evil about social media and its ability to isolate us, has been dismissed. It’s as close as we get to being together and realizing that what is “good” or “bad,” is only good or bad in that moment and that given context.
This piece was written for the class Alternative Journalism, which is taught by Kelley Crawford at Tulane University. The ongoing series, “Coping with Corona” is a live curriculum project where students investigate and report on the missed angles of Coronavirus coverage.