But over the past few weeks, life as we know it has been upended in incalculable ways. We have learned new terms: social distancing, self-isolation, “Zooming.” Collectively, we have decamped from our offices, socially distanced from our bartenders, baristas and barbers, and fumbled through home schooling our kids. But should I have added social media distancing, too? Since I’m locked inside anyway, there could be some benefit to having a digital escape.
I joined Facebook in 2004 as a freshman in college. Fast-forward 15 years, and my Facebook account has served as a digital time capsule of my early adult life: capturing births and deaths, marriages and divorces, new jobs and cat videos.
In the intervening years, I cultivated my online friends, especially through a small private Facebook group for mothers. Approximately 100 moms from around the world have been with me since I was pregnant with my daughter in 2015; we’ve shared our hopes, dreams and fears as mothers, partners and friends. We’ve hosted reunions where we meet in person to relax and connect (and to prove to each other that we really do exist in real life!).
But since I’ve been offline, friends have texted and told me that I’ve missed some viral moments, the kind that can tie homebound citizens together. I never got the chance to pick the new “Lauren and Cameron” on the Instagram show “Love Is Quarantine.” I didn’t dance along with strangers and celebrities alike at the world’s hottest new nightclub, hosted by DJ D-Nice on Instagram Live. As my colleague Alyssa Rosenberg pointed out, “we badly need common cultural experiences and references to remind us what we share,” and it’s touch points like these that we will collectively reminisce about when we emerge from our self-isolation.
I also haven’t been able to support the families in my Facebook group. We have members who live in coronavirus hotspots such as Seattle and New York City, and it pains me to know that I’m not there for them when they might need it most. Over the past five years, we have collected money for groceries when someone was unable to work, sent sympathy cards when someone lost a parent and supported each other through illness or heartache. Isn’t this exactly the time when we should be coming together?
But there are definite benefits to removing oneself from social media during a global pandemic. Misinformation and rumors about the virus are thriving on social media — in my hiatus, I can enjoy a blissful ignorance of do-it-yourself virus cures and secret plans for a nationwide lockdown enforced by the National Guard. I can also avoid the rising tide of racism and xenophobia against Asian Americans that has swamped so many feeds.
I’ve also been able to help teach my daughter to write, a task I had foolishly written off as a responsibility for her day care. I’ve rediscovered the joy of cooking, even if it’s in a Crock-Pot. And I’ve made it a priority to text and call friends and family to make sure they are healthy and safe. Previously, I would have gleaned that information without personal contact, from Facebook status updates or pictures on Instagram.
I’m not sure what the online or offline world will look like when I return from my break. For now, I will continue to social (media) distance while social distancing. There have been plenty of moments (and emails from Facebook) when I was tempted to peek at someone’s post. But for myself and many others, the current pandemic has helped to refocus what’s important in my life.