It's been 11 years since I set up my Facebook account, a fact I was cheerily informed of the other day. Facebook honoured this anniversary by creating a slide show of some of the top moments I've shared over the years and it reminded me how much has changed since I created my account. I no longer write on my friends' walls (save for the odd birthday wish), I haven't changed my profile picture in more than three years and I can't even remember the last time I updated my status.
Nowadays, I am more of a lurker. I use Facebook as a source of information, a place to find news, to find answers or to see what's happening in my local area. I rarely visit the profiles of friends and family, or send them a message just to say "hello". What started as a place to keep up to date with your peers has evolved beyond what anybody, even founder Mark Zuckerberg, could have imagined. Whether this is good or bad can often be difficult to decipher, but in recent times, it has often felt as though social media's dark side can edge out the good.
But now the world faces something else nobody could have foreseen. The coronavirus pandemic has developed so rapidly and unpredictably ,it has plunged everyone into a surreal and scary bubble, with each day bringing a new set of circumstances that change the status quo. For the past few weeks, my Twitter feed has been clogged with nothing but the latest headlines and statistics, while my Facebook timeline has been filled with group discussions trying to navigate the new circumstances we all face.
What's been heartening, though, is the social aspect of social media is starting to peek back through. As millions of people across the world face the prospect of self-isolation or quarantine, and with social distancing high on the agenda, we find ourselves in a unique situation. For years, people have been told to limit social media, to get out and have as much face-to-face interaction as possible. But now? Social media will revert to what it was made for and, in all likelihood, become a lifeline for many.
New platforms to connect people have been springing up, such as QuarantineChat, an app designed to randomly pair up people from across the world who are in the same position, helping them feel a little less lonely.
As someone who lives on the other side of the world to their family and friends, I now feel less resentful of the harmful effects social media can have. Instead, I am grateful I can keep in touch so easily. It's a digital comfort blanket I'm sure we will all be clinging to in the coming weeks.
So share pictures and share memories. Write on the wall of someone you haven’t spoken to for a while. Try to cut through the noise and connect with the people behind the screens. We might be practising social distancing in real life, but there are ways to connect with others, right at our fingertips.