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Physically distant, socially connected

Imogen Kemp-Hunt, Senior Digital Strategist
Posted in: Opinion

Recent years, and most noticeably the past 12 months, have seen us begin to lose our infatuation with the always-on nature of technology. Social media is increasingly being shunned for its steady morph into a breeding ground of hate, fake news and unrealistic goals, with more and more people deleting apps and switching off phones to escape the pressures of Instagram and quiet the noise of Twitter.

But as we find ourselves in a sudden and unpredicted state of physical distancing, technology, and the platforms many of us have come to loathe, is the very thing bridging the gap between friends, families, colleagues and communities.

At Brandwidth, we’re fortunate to operate within an industry and roles where working from home is embraced. As a company, we encourage flexible working and have an infrastructure in place that supports remote collaboration – but what about businesses where flexible working has never previously been an option?

In China alone, Microsoft Teams saw a 500% increase in meetings, calls and conferences from January, and companies such as Zoom and Google have responded to this dramatic culture shift by offering free online-conferencing packages, in an attempt to meet the growing demand for remote working support. So, if you are currently working from home and finding it hard to adapt, give your favourite colleague a quick Skype call – you’d be surprised at the uplifting effect of just hearing someone’s voice. (Additional top tip: don’t limit yourself to online meetings. Not only are Skype lunch dates 100% a thing, but you don’t have to deal with the smell of that one colleague’s microwaved fish all afternoon).

But it’s not just businesses that are feeling the effects of social distancing. Of course, shifting an entire workforce online is going to cause problems, but the real issue we face as a society is that of increased loneliness and anxiety. When the news is full of scary statistics and ever-changing warnings, we need one another more than ever, which is why the role of technology in keeping us connected has never been more important.

A far cry from the usual Spring onslaught of weight-loss teas and summer body diet plans, Instagram’s influencer-driven, product pushing content is being replaced by self-care tips, meditation tutorials, advice on managing anxiety and more. A new sense of community is developing as people look to their online peers for advice and support, rather than likes and approval.

One awesome example of this is the rise of yoga and fitness studios taking to social media to offer free group workout sessions. Philadelphia based studio Three Queens Yoga are live streaming classes via Zoom, and Rhythm Lab’s Jackie Dracone is using Instagram to share live workouts with her followers.

Another brilliant illustration of the use of social media for good during this time is the number of musicians jumping on the live-streaming bandwagon. Artists such as Chris Martin and John Legend have both taken to Instagram Live to put on mini home concerts for their fans, at a time when live gigs and performances are unable to go ahead.

And this growing sense of community doesn’t stop with social media. Pandemic-enforced-social-distancing was always going to be a time to shine for Netflix, but the streaming platform’s nifty extension, “Netflix Party”, has got people so excited that it was trending on Twitter.

By synchronising video playback and adding a group chat to your favourite shows, the extension allows users to watch movies and series together, even when apart. That’s right, even in a global pandemic, Netflix and Chill lives on (albeit a slightly more PG version).

And finally, but by no means least, arguably the most important role of technology in all of this, is its ability to connect us to our loved ones.

Studio Drift founder, Lonneke Gordijn, beautifully summed up the current power and purpose of technology this week:

With DRIFT, we tried to bring humans, nature and technology on the same frequency…Today on my 40th birthday, self-quarantined after all the travelling and alone in the box that I call home, technology is the only tool to connect ourselves with other people. And at this moment we feel how badly we are in need of this connection.

It seems the force that has seemingly driven us apart over recent years is now the same one bringing us closer together, and after all – isn’t that what technology and social media was always intended for? It’s a shame it’s taken a global pandemic for us to remember why these platforms and devices were created, but perhaps one thing we have learnt is that social media is not the problem; it all comes down to how we use it.

At a time when we are physically farther apart than ever, those annoying little bright-screened-notification-filled devices hold a whole new purpose. So, ring your grandparents, FaceTime your friends and add in an extra check-in with your colleagues; we may be physically distant but no one has to feel lonely.

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