By Mary Sprague
Staying off campus means staying online – whether for classes or socialization. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way students learn, study, and hang out. Increased quarantine and stay-at-home orders have made maintaining relationships and feeling connected even more difficult. For everyone scrambling for ways to stay in touch with their friends, here are a couple recommendations, both digital and analog.
FaceTime/Google Duo. For iPhone users, FaceTime is old reliable. For others, there are well-rated apps out there that do the same thing. Google Duo is a fairly new app that’s been making waves for Android users. The app allows standard two person calls, or conferences with up to eight people. This app is more geared towards video calling, so it’s perfect for students looking to see their friends’ faces. Google also offers Hangouts, a similar program that works for both smartphones and computers with video capabilities. In addition to its video features, the app also boats text-chat features that can host up to 150 people. Although a group chat that big sounds hellish, this chat feature is great for getting all your friends texting in one place.
Send a letter. Why not? I find that hand-writing a note is soothing, and receiving mail is always fun. Tell your pen pal about your day, what you did, what you were trying to do, or something you’ve never done. Tell your pen pal about your experience in the quarantine, and the cool new mask you made out of an old handkerchief. If you’re not big on handwriting, then you can always include pictures or other small (mailable) items. Include flowers, coins, bookmarks, stickers, recipes, trading cards, old drawings, spells — anything that fits nicely in an envelope. Let yourself get creative with your letters. If anything, a manual task like letter-writing is a good distraction from current events.
Discord/Zoom. For screensharing, these platforms are the way to go. If you don’t feel like downloading Discord, Zoom is a fine alternative, but the free version caps calls at 40 minutes. Discord offers more time, more features, and a really fun interface. Discord allows the creation of groups, groups video and audio calls, chats, and screensharing. The simultaneity of these features is what makes this app unique. Use Discord to call some friends and screenshare a movie, a video game, or anything else you can think of. In addition to being a really thorough communication tool, Discord also offers opportunities for social expansion. With servers geared towards specific interests and topics, there are always ways to interact with like-minded new people.
Online games. When I was in elementary school, my best friend and I used to call each other on the phone and play Club Penguin together. There are, of course, more sophisticated ways to do this (with more sophisticated games), but the principle is the same — call up a friend and hang out on the internet. I’d even recommend a nostalgia trip. Reconnect with the online games of yore. Race each other to complete “Poptropica” islands. Make new penguins on “Club Penguin Rewritten” and paint the town red. Man, download “RuneScape.” Yes, it’s still running. This website (https://jigsawpuzzles.io/) lets friends work on puzzles together. Or, try downloading the “Mario Kart” app and race against your friends (or enemies, if you’re like that). There are thousands of online dress-up games to keep you and the homies occupied. If you’re looking for console content, most have online features — for a price. For the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Online offers a 7-day free trial, then $3.99 monthly. PlayStation4 and Xbox offer 14-day and month-long trials, respectively, before both go to $9.99 monthly.
TikTok. Okay, hear me out. TikTok is multi-faceted. Not only can you send your friends the funny videos you find, but its editing software is generous enough that it allows for many people in many locations to be in one video. Make a TikTok with your friends — take Instagram challenges a step further. There are tons of sounds and trends to explore. The Full House theme song has been very fruitful for collaborative videos. Here’s an example by @jesslovesrana: https://vm.tiktok.com/tgW5U9/. If your friends don’t have a TikTok, convince them. Or, use old video from pre-quarantine to make a nice (or dumb) friendship video to send to your pals.
Whatever you do, talk to your friends. Communication is of the utmost importance during social distancing and physical separation. Try to talk to your group every day, even if it’s just to send something stupid. Don’t overthink it. Remember, your friends are missing you as much as you miss them.