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Virtual Ways to Connect Socially That Don’t Involve Drinking

by Alex Bresler Mar 19, 2020

Whether you’re on lockdown or sheltering in place, steering clear of loved ones to flatten the coronavirus curve is not doing anyone’s social life any favors. Although we’re all familiar with the physical symptoms to keep an eye on during the health crisis, boredom and loneliness are side effects of the new, post-pandemic normal that can be distressing to our mental health.

To cope with social distancing, people are finding new ways to interact with their neighbors and making good use of video-conferencing apps like Zoom and Skype to connect with friends and family. A surprise to no one, virtual happy hour and digital drinking games were two of the first trends to take over the internet. But all the non-drinkers out there, or anyone looking to limit their alcohol consumption while quarantined, can rest assured: There are many ways to hang out with loved ones online, or make like-minded new friends, that are completely booze-free. Here are eight ways to stay social, and sober, during self-isolation.

1. Attend a virtual concert.

Following in the footsteps of Italy’s balcony entertainers, big names in music have started sharing their talents from a safe distance by live-streaming concerts. Performers like John Legend, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, Keith Urban, Pink, and Neil Young have all staged shows on various social media platforms. Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie fame has committed to a daily home concert over the next few weeks.

Billboard is keeping a running list of upcoming shows, so keep an eye out for the artists you and your friends adore. Online venue Stageit is another resource that may come in handy: Artists perform live, and concertgoers can interact by asking questions and requesting songs. As fun as it is to dance around your bedroom in your pajamas, treat these digital shows like nights out to stave off cabin fever. Get a group of friends together, get all dolled up even if you’re not leaving the apartment, and enjoy your very own VIP section.

2. Join an online book club.

Of all the hobbyists out there, book fiends are some of the most prepared to be stuck inside indefinitely. But not even unlimited fictional worlds can compete with a genuine human connection. Thankfully, all it takes to find human connection in the digital age is decent Wi-Fi. Literature lovers can consider joining an online book club while cooped up.

Several were popular before the coronavirus outbreak, including the Social Book Club, the Purewow Book Club, and Emma Watson’s feminist “Our Shared Shelf.” Others were started in reaction to the pandemic, including German tennis star Andrea Petkovic’s “Racquet Book Club” and author Erika Hall’s “Quarantine Book Club,” which links up readers and authors over Zoom.

Other literary resources, like Goodreads and BookSparks, can also help you track your self-isolation reading list, as well as provide a social component. Now could also be the perfect time to organize your very own book club: Invite friends, family, co-workers, or whomever; choose a work that’s available as an e-book or audiobook; and draft a loose syllabus with reading goals and talking points. You’ll appreciate the escape, and the company.

3. Put together a Netflix Party.

Good movies are some of the world’s greatest comforts, even more so when they’re enjoyed with our nearest and dearest. Though theater seats fail the six-feet-apart social-distancing test, cinephiles can still stream their favorite flicks with loved ones with the help of Netflix Party, a Chrome extension that lets multiple viewers sync their video playback. You can also chat about what’s going on without disturbing your fellow moviegoers by using the group chat sidebar. Note that the Netflix Party plugin only works on Chrome browsers.

4. Do an online language exchange.

Coronavirus is a worldwide pandemic that’s impacting daily lives everywhere from Italy to South Korea to the United States. We’re all in the health crisis together, which has inspired many to cross digital borders to connect with those in other parts of the world who are experiencing the same thing. One of the most productive ways to touch base with those abroad is to find a language-learning partner. You can stay connected and informed about the global state of affairs while also picking up a new skill and making a new friend. Italki and Speaky have long been two of the go-tos for conversation exchange, and the Tandem app can also help you find a talking partner. Otherwise, anyone who has a Reddit account or is willing to make one can also join the language exchange subreddit to find someone seeking their language and offering another, or make a post of their own to try to find the ideal language-exchange buddy.

5. Organize a web-based game night.

Huddling around a living room table with a group of friends, a stack of board games, and lots of snacks is a fun way to spend a dry Friday or Saturday night. Unfortunately, it’s frowned upon in the era of social distancing. Luckily, huddling around your laptop for a virtual game night is not. A number of popular board games are available free online: Settlers of Catan, Monopoly, and Cards Against Humanity to name a few. You can also find classics like chess and games designed specifically for the web, like Draw Something.

Check out the Pogo website to browse a selection of online games, or peruse Playing if you want to get a card game going. (Virtual poker night, anyone?) If you’re willing to spend a little, there’s also the Jackbox Party Pack by Jackbox Games, which allows multi-player gaming through social streaming sites like Twitch and Discord. Many online games come with the option to video chat while playing, but even if not, you can easily set up your own concurrent call.

6. Go to church, virtually.

Church is not just a place for worship. It’s also a center for community, a beacon of comfort. A place where many people, religious and not, take refuge in their local house of prayer during difficult times. To continue providing calm and hope during the health crisis, churches from Chattanooga to Kalamazoo have started taking their sermons to the web. The BBC has also started hosting virtual church services on Sunday, and even Pope Francis has hopped on the live-streaming bandwagon. Even if your local church may not be offering virtual services, try to rally some of your fellow churchgoers to attend the same online sermon, then organize a digital discussion to talk about the themes explored. And don’t skip out on wearing your Sunday best.

7. Host a digital dinner party.

Like musicians, celebrity chefs like Queer Eye’s Antoni Porowski and Iron Chef Michael Symon have been streaming quarantine-time cooking classes online. If they’ve put you in the mood to flex your pantry-cooking muscles, make a night of it by inviting a few guests to a virtual dinner party. If possible, choose a theme that everyone will be able to follow, even loosely, whether it’s a type of cuisine to whip up with ingredients on hand or a playful dress code to take the edge off. Try to create some ambiance; mood music and lighting can transform your kitchen. Then when it’s time to eat, lean into the foodie fun by sharing pantry-cooking techniques, swapping recipes, and generally enjoying good food and company. Drinks are welcome but not required.

8. Join a virtual jam sesh.

Jam sessions are the ultimate distraction. They’re a loud, liberating, creative way to pass the hours with your musical friends. It’s easy enough to organize a jam session via video chat during self-isolation, but services like Garage Band Jam Sessions make it easier to collaborate from a distance. If you’re looking for new friends to rock out with, free sites like TechSariga can help you find fellow musicians to connect and create with. The site also offers live virtual concerts, discussion boards, web events, an online music library to peruse, and more.

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