Together apart: students stay connected despite social distancing

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Leland Culver

Apps like “Netflix Party,” a google chrome extension that allows Netflix users to synchronize their screens an provides live chat, have become integral to students’ staying connected to each other during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Naomi Corlette would have never predicted that she would celebrate her 17th birthday sitting at home alone, hunched over a laptop screen. But in many ways, she did have a normal birthday party. 

All her friends were there, they played party games and watched movies — even held a Bob Ross-style painting competition. The only thing that made this different from your run-of-the-mill birthday function: it was entirely virtual. 

Since Illinois’s “shelter-in-place” order to limit the spread of COVID-19 took effect March 21, getting creative with virtual socialization has become the new normal for U-High students.  

And get creative she did. Naomi, a junior, used a combination of Zoom, a video conference platform, the popular mobile game Psych!, the Chrome extension Netflix Party, and Google Drive to make the best of a strange and difficult situation. 

“It wasn’t ideal, but I feel like I did well to make the best of the situation,” Naomi said. “I got to see my friends who don’t live here, who I wouldn’t have usually gotten to invite. So that was the plus side for me.”

Popular apps such as Snapchat, Instagram and FaceTime have remained instrumental in connecting self-isolated students, but many students are now turning to alternative social media platforms like Zoom, due to their capability to connect larger groups, to fight off the inherent loneliness of self-isolation. Netflix Party, which allows its users to watch the same show or movie perfectly synched up and comment as they watch, has become a choice way to kill the now boundless amounts of spare time among U-High students. 

I feel like I’ll just go crazy if I don’t have my friends around me because I’m already really bored”

— Grace Cruise

Students have also found creative ways to connect without the use of these apps. When sophomore Grace Cruise wanted to watch a show with her friend that wasn’t on Netflix, the two set up a makeshift Netflix Party by calling each other and synching up their screens manually.

“I feel like I’ll just go crazy if I don’t have my friends around me because I’m already really bored,” Grace said. “When I get to call my friends or text them or watch a TV show, it’s satisfying that boredom.”

Like Naomi and her friends, some students are connecting digitally through video games. Apart from mobile games like Psych! and Evil Apples, a rip on Cards Against Humanity, students have also stayed in touch with multiplayer console games, even meeting up on group Minecraft servers. 

Most nights, sophomore Zach Gin said he plays “Call of Duty: Warzone” with his friends, interacting in-game and on the app Discord

“I think it’s fun,” Zach said. “And it reminds you that not everything has to be about school, right?”

Despite resuming school in a remote learning environment, boredom and isolation are still very much a struggle. Keeping in touch with friends remains an outlet for students to feel some sort of normalcy. 

Before the release of the “shelter-in-place” order went into effect, sophomore Ashley Hannah had connected with friends in person. Now, in-person connections are not an option. Ashley still takes care to stay in touch with her friends online, as she values maintaining her friendships and the support they offer.

“Staying social — even if it’s just texting your friends — I think it’s important because you need to stay in contact because it’s going to be over sooner or later,” Ashley said. “You’re going to need all that after this.”