This is the week the government acted on health advice put out 2.5 eons ago by such no-mark outfits as the WHO and urged its citizens to go online and avoid all but the most necessary contact with others.
In the wake of this bold, decisive act of leadership, and as workplaces – and now schools – close across the land, housebound workers are scrabbling about for ways to maintain some semblance of a life.
The conundrum of how best to get on with work matters doesn’t seem the most pressing thing on everybody’s list: dispiritingly for ‘the man’, it turns out a great many of us are perfectly able to do our job without going into an office and sitting down at a computer for a fixed period of eight hours, breaking off only to sing happy birthday to Sandra.
No, the key concern for most of us seems to be how to pursue our leisure activities and keep up healthy spirits, which have always – traditionally-speaking – relied on human contact for sustenance. And with such a range of platforms now available to us, initiatives seem to be springing up everywhere.
In my own case, I have a Skype scheduled for this afternoon, a WhatsApp hangout planned for this evening (I believe with video), a meeting with my book group tentatively arranged online Google Hangouts for later in the week, and a mooted RuPaul’s Drag Race watch-along at the weekend with my usual RPDR crew.
There’s a Covid-specific WhatsApp group in place among our consenting friends to discuss the virus without boring or unduly worrying those in other discussions.
I am also trying a new approach, for me at least, of making little online ‘care packages’ (the phrase is odious, but what can you do) for people to look at or listen to every day – these are posts which include links to articles, songs, films, recipes, perhaps a podcast; maybe some pictures.
Difficulties remain for staying in contact with the elderly, who are of course mostly shut out of internet-based hang-outs.
My own grandmother (92), a beneficiary of IT lessons for the elderly, is a dab-hand at FaceTime, but the same cannot be said for all older people. This question becomes harder with grandparents categorised as at-risk and unable to see or care for their grandchildren.
It’s notable most technologies skew younger and isolation is surely an even greater concern during this time (though here are some suggestions of how you can help an older friend or relative).
However, reading groups, and finding ways to watch TV together, seem to be highest on the priority list for those setting up new initiatives with friends.
Emily, 28, who lives in Belgium, has set up a new pan-European book group with four people she recruited on ‘philosophy Twitter’ (yes, it exists).
One of them had work access to hangout app Zoom, “much better than Skype in terms of the quality of the calls” apparently. “We chatted for about two hours, drinking and chain smoking,” she adds. “One person used the ‘white board’ function on the app to draw a portrait of one of the other participants.”
Alcohol continues to feature heavily in many people’s plans. It’s there in the London-based book group that Claire joined, which has now gone online and will be meeting on Google Hangouts. “We’ll stick to the allocated time and date and everyone who can will dial in.
The only thing we’ll miss is the excessive cheese and wine – that can be consumed individually of course,” says Claire whose group is currently reading Bernardine Evaristo’s Booker-winning Girl, Woman, Other – a significantly less on-the-nose pick than Emily’s group, which has plumped for The Plague by Albert Camus.
Not giving up the booze either is Cadi Rhys, 29, in Wales, whose book group has reconvened on WhatsApp – where the literary criticism comes in the comments. But the shape, format and platform of everyone’s meet-ups seem to vary wildly.