My mum first got a smartphone about five years ago. Until then, she’d got more use out of her Nokia 3210 than anyone I know (except my dad, who still uses it). The day we went to the O2 shop in England to get her an iPhone was pretty momentous, as 24/7 access to the internet and free global messaging services quite literally changed her life.
And yet, she only set up her first WhatsApp group the other day. As she and her friends are on lockdown in the UK due to the spread of the coronavirus, they’ve set up a little social media gang called “Ladies United”. They simply tell each other what they have – and haven’t – done that day. I asked what the latter meant and she explained: “Well, like, should have done our ironing but couldn’t be bothered *smiling emoji*." She’s really getting the hang of this.
I, of course, technically being a “millennial”, have had a smartphone for much longer. I do almost all of my communicating via messaging apps, whether it’s through Facebook Messenger, Instagram DMs or WhatsApp, to name a few. As someone who has lived overseas and away from loved ones since I was three months old, I’ve gotten used to letting big chunks of time go by between chats with friends and family.
Recently, as everyone I know across the world has begun to socially distance themselves and self-isolate, I've found there's been less time between chats. I've reconnected with old school friends, who I plan to meet up with on House Party later this week.
These are people I’d usually see once every few years at weddings and special occasions. Every time we meet it’s as if no time has passed, but we live on different continents and lead very different lives, so we only tend to connect intermittently. And yet, as we find ourselves all in the same boat, we have more to talk about than ever.
Social media has been demonised in our societies for years. We're often told by mental health experts to keep our phone usage to the bare minimum. For the most part, I've abided by that advice and have never been particularly glued to my phone.
Now, however, when we're all being asked to stay at home, many of us alone, our devices have become, in many ways, our salvation.
Sure, I still need to curb my addiction to the app game Fishdom and definitely should stop endlessly scrolling through live news blogs, which only makes my anxiety worse. But I'm using social media platforms more than ever – whether it's for a lengthy chat over Zoom with a friend far away or a simple note via InstaStories telling someone I haven't seen in years that I'm around to chat if they need me – and therefore I'm connecting with people more than ever, too.
For those of us who previously thought these apps were a waste of time: I’m enjoying every minute of it and don’t feel like a second of my time is being lost.