How online friendships are shaped during the pandemic

by Pooja Mukherjee
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The worldwide lockdown has compelled us to coop up in our homes and practice social distancing. While friendships and other relationships are going through a challenging time, various social media apps and online platforms have kept us connected across countries, from the comfort of isolation. 

Being in quarantine doesn’t feel that bad if we have people to talk to, share our collective thoughts during this pandemic, and fight against the mental distress, together. Modern problems require modern solutions, and the inability to connect to our friends physically has compelled us to find new ways of communication. 

Also read: How the pandemic has brought us closer to our friends.

Elizabeth Segran, the author of “Rocket Years: How Your Twenties Launch the Rest of Your Life,” believes that social distancing is also disrupting the normal patterns of online friendships, and establishing connections via social networks. Social distancing can instill a feeling of loneliness, especially among the millennial generation who are already going through underlying symptoms of mental distress.

The “social recession” due to the pandemic highlights the much important factor of the human need for friendships. Psychologist Caroline Anderson explains how the human mind needs to engage in fulfilling friendships to satisfy their urge for companionship. And the Internet-savvy generation is utilizing this lockdown period to explore its friendship needs. 

We are much more dedicated to our digital friends now by using video call apps like Houseparty, Facebook Messenger, maybe Zoom (only if you know how to make it happening). A budding friendship can be maintained over online platforms by engaging in multiple virtual activities such as online movie-night in Netflix, digital board games, an online community dedicated to movies, series, and books, and setting a common workout goal.

Also read: How the COVID-19 pandemic will affect our sex life.

Living in the 21st century, just because we cannot be physically together with each other, does not mean we cannot connect emotionally over virtual platforms. There are multiple ways to make new friends while social distancing. Start conversations with someone you have been interested in talking to since eternity, but never got the opportunity or courage—what better time than this when you are bound to get a reply at least. No one is that busy. Come on!

This is a great opportunity to reach out to other people who might share the same hobbies as you or are interested in a common topic or be part of an online community to expand your knowledge or share cool ideas with fellow thinkers. An interesting app to meet new people from around the world is Slowly, which lets you connect with strangers by sending them letters. Just as normal letters take a definite amount of time to reach a person, the Slowly app provides the virtual experience of the beauty of waiting for a letter or sending your heartfelt emotions to your ‘pen-pal.’ 

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Remember, you do not need to be friends with everyone you meet right now. But it is important to form connections to avoid feeling emotionally isolated. Psychology explains how even distant relationships (or “weak ties”) can turn out to be good for you. Virtual friendships can make you feel emotionally connected to a larger community, make you feel part of something important, which increases feelings of happiness and mindfulness. Such relationships might turn out to be helpful in multiple ways, as well. Nobody knows how connections might work and what may come out of it in the future. 

It might feel difficult to connect with your close friends through a blue-lit screen after years of sharing memories among companions. It can be hard to transition into new forms of virtual communication. The awkwardness would soon fade away if you accept the changing patterns of your online friendships. 

Scheduling the time to talk, instead of catching up for a cup of coffee, can feel weird at first. The conversations might come to a standstill when you cannot share the intensity of your emotions through mere video calls. We need to push through these obstacles and accept virtual friendships. The human psychology to connect with people and share their life is innate, and a pandemic can’t stop it. 

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