Read at thespec.com.
Imagine the COVID-19 pandemic without social media.
Mere weeks ago, apps like Facebook were still a guilty pleasure. It was hip to deny the distraction of scrolling through other people’s trip photos on Instagram. Twitter was little more than a squash court for self-important crusaders.
COVID-19 has brought new importance to the connectivity social media provides us. I realize there are people who have never used it, and no amount of pandemic isolation will convert them. However, those who have used it reluctantly, raise your hand if you still think it’s a waste of time. Anyone?
Sharing posts about how we’re all coping with isolation and the extreme potential for boredom and mental health challenges is a great way to feel less secluded. Before the novel coronavirus, posting photos of one’s meals on Instagram was considered narcissistic and gratuitous, but now that many people have been forced to cook more, it’s become a wholesome way to share in our collective experience.
Social media also connects us in real time. In the absence of physical proximity, the video call has become the new family dinner, the new ladies’ wine night, the new gathering of friends. I’m an outgoing person, but I’m also an introvert who enjoys my space and independence, and yet I’ve found myself shooting out video calls to friends and family without reservation.
For a long time, I’ve appreciated social media for what it is: a series of platforms for engaging with others, whether personally or professionally. I have had countless conversations and arguments with those who have insisted it’s simply a waste of time, or even an unhealthy addiction. The current state of things is strong evidence in favour of my stance.
While there are potential pitfalls, social media is also a comfortable arena for the sharing of information. Especially during such challenging times, people tend to protect their mental states by opting out of reading, watching, or listening to the news. In rapidly developing situations such as viral outbreaks, important and even life-saving information can trickle down from news outlets and through the interconnected chambers of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Of course, there will always be false information that spreads like bushfire on parched land, but with so many eyes on newsfeeds, these reports seem to be pretty efficiently discovered as faulty or fictitious, further narrowing reliable resources on a given topic.
In pre-COVID times, the ability of social media to keep us informed was a questionable feature, but I’ve never before had so many discussions by Facebook Messenger on the state of the world, and each individual’s — and each household’s — thoughts, feelings, and boundaries relative to a world event.
Social media is keeping us all together — families, friends, communities, and even artists and their audiences.
One of the professional activities I depend on is reading to a roomful of people. When it comes to recording video media to share online, I’ve been dreading the inevitable for years. The thought of talking to nobody as though I were talking to somebody has always made me cringe, but with the limitations set by the pandemic, my perspective on creating and sharing video content has evolved. Whereas I previously thought of talking into a recording device as grossly self-congratulatory, I now view it as an essential way to reach people and contribute to global wellness through the celebration of literature.
And, of course, no small helping of sarcasm.