Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 October 2020

QuarantineChat: the free phone service connecting strangers in coronavirus isolation around the world

The free phone-call service is hoping to combat loneliness and create 'serendipitous moments between strangers'

Dialup's cheif executive officer Danielle Baskin lives in San Francisco, where a mandatory lockdown is in place. Courtesy Danielle Baskin 
Dialup's cheif executive officer Danielle Baskin lives in San Francisco, where a mandatory lockdown is in place. Courtesy Danielle Baskin 

If you’re stuck at home feeling isolated during the coronavirus outbreak, or just curious to see how people are faring around world, then new service QuarantineChat can help.

Designed by artists Danielle Baskin and Max Hawkins, the free call service, which operates over Wi-Fi or cellular data, randomly connects strangers across the globe who are quarantined or self-isolating.

“We heard so many stories about people in quarantine and self-isolation and thought random phone calls would be a great way to combat feelings of disconnection,” Baskin tells The National, adding that the service is aimed at creating serendipitous moments between strangers sparking random conversations, as if they were in a restaurant or on a bus.

So how does QuarantineChat work? It's powered by the Dialup app, which was developed and launched by Baskin and Hawkins last year.

“We both had a lot of self-employed friends so we made an app as a way to have check-ins while we were working from home,” Baskin says.

Dialup connects random strangers from across the world together in calls called ‘lines’. The lines are categorised under various topics on anything from woodworking and poetry to tarot card reading and breakfast chat. QuarantineChat, which was launched on March 1, is the latest line to launch.

the free phone-call service, which operates over Wi-Fi or cellular data, randomly connects quarantined and self-isolated people with each other.Danielle Baskin
The free phone-call service, which operates over Wi-Fi or cellular data, randomly connects quarantined and self-isolated people with each other. Danielle Baskin

Once people join through quarantinechat.com and sign up on Dialup, they'll get a call or two every day. Elevator music will play and a conversation prompt will display as the app connects random users in a one-on-one conversation. People anywhere in the world can join. Baskin, who is the chief executive officer of Dialup, says that hundreds of people across six continents have already signed up to use the service.

“Hearing someone's voice and being able to talk to them in real time is relieving,” Baskin, who lives in San Francisco, where a mandatory lockdown is in place, says.

“When we started QuarantineChat, I thought I'd be cheering people up in isolation. But now everyone in my city is in self-isolation and getting these phone calls feels more important. These moments to connect with another person in real-time is good for your mental health.”

It’s important for people to know they are not alone in their anxieties, Baskin says, adding that while the spread of the novel coronavirus may be on everyone’s minds, it may also be helpful to speak about other things that aren’t related to Covid-19.

“It's nice to be able to pick up the phone and get a perspective from someone who isn't necessarily in the same city as you, to really understand how this virus is affecting the whole world. And maybe you're both worried about the virus, but you could also just talk about what you're making for dinner and discover other things you might have in common.”

Baskin says she has spoken to a number of interesting people through the app, from a teacher in Madrid who goes outside every night at 8pm to clap to hospital workers, to an English teacher in Oman who was trying to convince her school to go online.

Designed by artists Danielle Baskin and Max Hawkins, QuarantineChat is a free phone-call service, which randomly connects quarantined and self-isolated people with each other. Courtesy: Danielle Baskin
Designed by artists Danielle Baskin and Max Hawkins, QuarantineChat is a free phone-call service, which randomly connects quarantined and self-isolated people with each other. Courtesy: Danielle Baskin

“I've been connected to people all over the world and it's been incredible to hear their first-person perspective of what changes are happening in their city,” Baskin says.

The Dialup team is now working on offering the app in languages other than English, Baskin says, although she was unable to confirm whether the app would be available in Arabic.

“We hope our project brings magic and serendipity to a new reality where hundreds of thousands of people might be stuck inside for the next month.”

Updated: March 19, 2020 03:51 PM

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