Nobody who has been reading about politics on Twitter or Facebook in the last five years could say that technology has fulfilled its potential to bring people together. Wasn’t that what we had hoped back in the early days of social networking? It represented the chance to keep in touch with distant friends and family members as well as making new connections across the world, but instead descended to bickering, bullying and belligerence.
But now we’ve got the chance to change that, and it’s happening already.
Coronavirus has seen millions of people around the world take to their homes for self-isolation, social distancing and remote working, including the Social team. It’s the best way we currently have to protect ourselves and each other from the spread of the virus, but it comes at a potentially heavy price for those already socially isolated, which is why we need to find a new way to step up and look out for each other, even at a safe distance.
At Social, this is something that has been very successful so far. Via our company Workplace page, we’ve all taken part in #shareyourworkstation photos of our desks, complete with pets, plants and children. We’ve also used Microsoft Teams not only for video conferencing but also to start a new tradition of Friday quizzes.
This is the world of work for us for the foreseeable future and we’re embracing it and each other (at a very safe distance) in ways that it was perhaps too easy to take for granted while we were physically together in our offices.
And that’s something we all need to bring into every aspect of our lives now, with the help of the technology in our hands and on our desks, kitchen tables and ironing boards. Grandparents who are used to seeing their grandchildren are having to get used to Skype calls replacing that time, but with no school and most people working from home, there’s so much time available for these video chats.
Speaking personally, I’m in much more frequent contact with my parents in the last week, whether talking on the phone, sending WhatsApp messages or having video chats. It’s a very positive outcome of a very frightening situation and it’s one that’s playing out for a lot of people right now.
One staff member at Social has scheduled in Grandad time with her daughter every school day for some intergenerational reading time, which is a lovely idea for everyone concerned, as well as giving the remote working parents a break from also being home schooling teachers.
There’s plenty more examples of how social media is being used for positive purposes to organise community collective action to help out the most vulnerable members of our communities when they really need it, while the likes of fitness coach Joe Wicks and author Oliver Jeffers have been using it to bring people together through exercise and stories.
Technology had been blamed in recent years for being something that was making us increasingly isolated, with the convenience of being able to run our worlds through our phones giving us less reason to leave our homes and actually interact with people.
Now that leaving our homes and interacting with people is actually dangerous, maybe we have an opportunity to find a way to change the way we are using technology when things go back to normal again, whenever that might be.
Instead of letting it divide and isolate us, we can learn from how it is helping us connect now to enhance rather than replace the face-to-face interactions we’ll be able to have again.
In the meantime, an aspect of social distancing and self-isolation that will become ever more serious the longer it goes on for is the impact on our mental health, and again, technology can be used to help. I am a Crisis Volunteer for Shout UK, a text crisis charity that launched last year.
Anyone who needs someone to talk to over text messaging can text Shout to 85258 and someone will be there for them. Of course, there’s the Samaritans too if you want to talk over the phone on 116 123. Both services are available for free, 24/7, so if you need them, please use them.
You never have to be alone, even now.