Tech in the time of corona: Old friends and red wine

Mala Bhargava | Updated on March 26, 2020

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How the internet brought back loved ones and made me share my nursery report card

For the first time in history, we’re living in an entire world that finds itself in deep trouble. Well, viruses and such may have come and gone before, but those folks didn’t have the internet to be able to tell us what it’s like. But we do and a very precious commodity it is, too.

The first thing I did when we went into The Great Lockdown was to call up my local ISP provider, a friendly lady who goes by the name of Rani, and demanded to know whether she had all backup solutions in place in case some squirrel decided to chew through cables. Internet Rani assured me she did, which immediately restored my good humour and made me think I could perhaps navigate being marooned all alone in my little apartment after all.

Bird songs and ceiling fans

It’s eerily quiet all around. But this world in trouble is also a world that is rediscovering itself. There’s the sound of birds, of course, and from everyone’s social media posts, it certainly looks as if they suddenly find birdsong utterly remarkable. There are also occasionally some annoying sounds such as my neighbour’s groaning ceiling fan which I wish would just give up the ghost altogether and a street dog who takes it into his head to howl right back at an enthusiastic conch being conched with great gusto — not that I blame him entirely. Then there’s a kid imitating the sound of a passing siren. And oh yes, my fridge.

In all of this one of the nicest sounds, however, is the ping on my phone indicating someone is either saying something or inviting me to chat. I, a confirmed notification-hater, turned them back on, I must confess. My heart warms over at old friends reaching out during these troubled times and though we haven’t met or corresponded in ages, we now have a glass of wine in the evenings, on one of the many channels available online.

I discovered old friends from when I was less than 10 years old and unearthed some old letters and bits of paper — including my nursery report card which said I was friendly, gentle and ‘fairly intelligent’ — that gave us a lot more to talk about. I scanned in old letters and we read them online as we went down memory lane, rediscovering what it was we loved about each other in the first place all those years ago.

Apps to the rescue

There are all the old apps one can use to connect, of course: WhatsApp, FaceTime, Facebook and its Messenger, Snapchat, Google Duo etc. But also a newer Houseparty app that lets you hang out in multiple windows to talk. It does, however, relentlessly send notifications which are best turned off. Though you can as well video chat on your usual favourite app, Houseparty has some options for when you run out of conversation such as trivia games but more than that, it’s the ease of adding more people to a conversation that makes it seem life-like and not unlike a noisy cocktail party.

There’s also a Netflix party Chrome extension that I’m afraid most people will find more trouble than it’s worth. Much better to watch and discuss and recommend the usual way.

Those once-annoying messenger pings now give me an especially warm fuzzy feeling when they come from my closest friends from more present times, keeping tabs on me and preventing an existential crisis or two as I face the prospect of the long long lock-down period still ahead on my own.

If in these calamitous times there has been the chance to make unexpected connections and strengthen existing ones, messenger apps have also shown up rifts as I found two of my very first cousins took social distancing rather literally and exited, without provocation, a small 10-member family group.

Oh well. I’m reminded of the title of a book by Shelley Turkle, Alone Together, where she speaks of how social media is making us lonely and isolated and how nice it is that one can also choose to be ‘together alone’ instead. With old friends and new, and red wine.

Published on March 26, 2020

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