One of the most heartwarming things that has emerged as the world has been gripped by the coronavirus crisis is that, despite the many necessary restrictions keeping families and friends apart, people have worked harder than ever to stay in touch with their loved ones.

This extra effort, to support elderly relatives via video calls, keep family spirits high in a group chat, or escapism through late night gaming, is not inconsequential. Mental wellbeing can slump when we’re isolated – even a two meter gap feels like a long way away from someone you’re used to hugging.

 

Figure out exactly what you crave – and find the tech that enables it best 

 

It’s not always the obvious technology that brings you together in the best way: it’s more what you do with it. Feel exhausted by the furious COVID-chatter of social media? Grab a Nintendo Switch and hang with your friends in the calm paradise that is Animal Crossing: New Horizons. There’s no relentless twitchy action – in fact, there’s nothing that you could reasonably call action at all, unless you count swishing a butterfly net or rearranging furniture as “action”.

Animal Crossing is surely the least consequential game ever made, and yet it’s utterly compelling, perfect for escapist 30-minute sessions throughout the day. It’s a quiet delight – perfect for people who have spent all day on endless Zoom calls and crave some non-verbal, escapist togetherness. Sitting on a cheerful riverbank next to a friend, lazily fishing as the sun goes down and as cherry trees rustle in the breeze is exactly as comforting as it sounds. 

 

Creative use of tech for collaborative fun

 

But if you need chatter and conversation with friends, it’s the little details that make all the difference when you’re organizing “remote togetherness”. Do you normally meet a group of friends every week for a board game night, or regular post-work drinks, or language-exchange meetups? They all work perfectly via video call or group chat, and bring some normality back: just make sure, like a video meeting for work, it’s all a little bit more structured so that you can enjoy the experience. 

Have you tried arranging a Bad Movie Night? Arrange to simultaneously hit play on a so-bad-it’s-good “classic” like Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot and groan along together at every woeful moment.

Or maybe you’ve decided to use your time to pursue new creative endeavors. Any creative activity almost guarantees personal nourishment – and doing it in collaboration with a friend is even better. But while we have plenty of technology lying around to get creative with, and plenty of time to do it, finding the right creative output is where the magic happens. 

So be brave enough to admit what you really want to do, now that time is a little more ductile, and dive right in. Always been meaning to write that pop banger? Collaborate with your friends using your iPhone and an app like Endlesss and watch as your perceived musical incompetence turns into a song you can’t get out of your head. The power of collaboration is real!

 

Calls and Effect

 

Finally, video calling might seem too obvious to discuss, but for elderly relatives, it may have proven utterly revelatory. Speaking to a grandparent on FaceTime (or Whatsapp, or Houseparty, or Zoom, or Skype, or…) and witnessing their happiness at the “in the room” feeling that video calls provide is a poignant reminder of the magical nature of tech that most of us take for granted. And research has shown that video calls have a very positive effect on the happiness of our elderly relatives – so get chatting!

You can easily help tech-novice relatives quickly adopt video calling by renting an Apple or Android device and, for relatives without internet access, add a short-term SIM. Just set it up, (then clean the device with a disinfectant wipe!) and show them how to answer a video call. Initially, it may be simplest to agree on a regular call time – every day at 10am, for instance – and for you to initiate the call. Then all they need to do is hit answer, and you can chat away.

Adjusting to the “new normal” of the post-coronavirus world might not be quite as complicated as we might think. The amazing technology is already here: just sprinkle a few creative ideas into the mix to turn a tough time into something approaching normality, and turn isolation into family fun.