Over family dinner, there’s really only one topic of conversation anymore. We debrief each other on the news we’ve heard throughout the day — new policies, the latest statistics, what is happening in the city. My social media apps are filled with stories and reminders to stay safe. I never thought I’d live during a time when one thing had so wholly pervaded not only my life, but also everyone’s lives, for an interminable amount of time. Scrolling through The New York Times Live Updates page was enough to make me want to crawl into bed and never come out again.
It’s hard to think of anything meaningful to say. Seniors aren’t getting the graduation they deserve. People are suffering from food and housing insecurity. People are dying. And that’s just the fallout from the coronavirus. In November, the U.S. is facing a major election. Climate change has not disappeared. It’s hard to focus on reading papers and turning in assignments when our communities and the world collectively are facing much, much more pressing issues.
Through all of this, I am incredibly grateful for technology and social media. The pervasiveness of technology in our lives has come under criticism and been a topic of debate in the past. But under the current circumstances, I don’t think that anyone can argue against the evidence of how crucial technology, the Internet, and social media have become, providing connection and hope during these unprecedented times.
As classes have moved online, I’m lucky to have WiFi and a personal laptop to attend my online classes and complete my schoolwork. I’m grateful for apps like Libby that are letting me borrow ebooks from my public library system so I can keep reading. On YouTube, members of the photography community are issuing challenges to their viewers and friends to inspire creativity.
3D printers are making ventilators. Everyone and their grandmothers know how to use Zoom now. There are DIY mask templates and simple bread recipes galore on the Internet.
Artists and performers are taking to social media platforms, using live sessions to perform mini-concerts for their fans. Celebrities are reading storybooks, fitness instructors are hosting virtual exercise classes, and NBA players are facing off in one-on-one 2K matches in the “NBA 2K Players Tournament.” Actors are having reunions and celebrating milestones, treating us all to a bit of nostalgia and a chance to exclaim at how fast time is passing.
In a time when we’re lacking human interaction and socialization, apps like Instagram and Snapchat, and even TikTok, are keeping us connected. Even while it seems like the external world is falling apart, online communities are coming together building on shared passions and interests and a general sense of humanity to keep one another inspired and hopeful. Being able to check in on each other is what is going to push forward, together.
If you scorned social media as a time-suck and a source of brain rot before shelter-in-place mandates were ordered, you may not be wrong. But that attitude towards these platforms will serve to isolate you further in a time when contact with others is much needed. So, don’t shy away from stepping away from bleak news reports and taking a break to look at Facebook. Give a like to those memes that make you laugh, leave a few comments, send posts to your friends and family that remind you of a memory or inside joke. Let people know that you’re doing okay — or if you’re not doing okay, because there will be someone who cares and wants to know. Just make sure you’re safely inside while you do so.
Jennifer Ng is a photographer for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.