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The Daily Tar Heel

Guest column: OK, Zoomer (and other ways to avoid social isolation)


Mary King is a writer for the Arts & Culture desk. Photo courtesy of Mary King.

Crying in Davis. Two M&M cookies smushed in your hand as you ride the escalator out of Lenoir. Basketball-induced hysteria (or, in this season’s case, weeping and gnashing of teeth). Silent Sam and the aftermath. 

In one way or another, first-year spring chickens and seasoned seniors alike have shared in a collective UNC experience — the exhilarating, the traumatic and the mundane. Though our student body comprises diverse identities and backgrounds, the Bell Tower looms over us all.

Except for when it doesn’t.  

Phones buzzed everywhere Wednesday afternoon when students received the (very expected) COVID-19 email from the University. All at once, thousands of eyes scanned the page, and mixed feelings flooded the student body. It was this moment that sealed our impending enrollment in, as recent internet discourse has called it, Zoom University. The email echoed the CDC’s advice: Social distancing is the name of the game.

As the situation escalates, large chunks of the UNC community face more pressing issues than the physical absence of their friends. However, Vox reported Thursday that the pandemic will spur not only an economic recession, but a “social recession.” We need to employ isolation measures, Vox Editor-at-Large Ezra Klein writes, but humans are social animals — and loneliness can adversely affect our mental and even physical health.  

As we disperse, bunker down and hide out, how do we maintain the community we’ve built?   

While video-calling platforms like Zoom keep our education afloat, these services can also help us sustain our friendships from a distance.  

But that only works if we actually use them.

One could argue that staying in touch is a function of social media — that we can live alongside people by watching their Instagram stories. But platforms like Instagram, for better or for worse, reflect a one-dimensional and incomplete picture of our lives. When you’re en route to your 8 a.m. class and you bump into your friends, they see your disheveled, groggy self in true, natural form — not in the planned-out perfection of a teal and orange aesthetic.

By no means am I saying video calls perfectly recreate the raw realness of IRL interaction. But they come a tad closer than social media and texting. Excuse the boomer vibes ahead, but to keep up the relationships that matter to us, we’ve got to try to engage in virtual face-to-face conversations. We can treat it as if we’re grabbing lunch with someone. It might take effort or feel a little awkward, but in this time of isolation, this could help keep us from slipping away from each other.  

Another possibility: letter-writing. I’ve now jumped from boomer to Downton Abbey, but honestly, this has the potential to be really cool.

Procure your friends’ home addresses, dig some frilly stationary out from the back of your parents’ cabinets and go sicko mode. Tell your friends how much they mean to you. Draw them pictures using Crayola stubs from your middle school pencil case. Write out the lyrics of “Mr. Brightside” in calligraphy. And maybe douse the envelopes in Purell for good measure.

It’s archaic and a little extra, but a physical manifestation of friendship — something you can hold in your hands — might act as a precious piece of tangible reality in this stretch of virtually-based, cloistered living.

So, we can try to keep up our preexisting friendships via FaceTime and letter-writing — but how do we stay connected to the community at large? How do we meet new people and encounter new perspectives as we did on campus?

Let’s discuss Kevin G's Big L Meme Self-Quarantine.


I’m fully aware that Facebook meme groups operate a little like Fight Club — you don’t talk about them. But I will unironically advocate for the community-building capacity of memes till the day COVID-19 yeets me off this earth. 

Memes unite us around shared experiences. That’s the most concise definition I’ve heard — and it prescribes a small reprieve from the isolation we’ll have to face for the next, well, who-knows-how-long. Even while we’re physically apart, memes allow us to — as much as this phrase makes me retch — “do life together.”

Groups like Kevin G’s Yada-yada-yada inject some almost-therapeutic levity into our depressing and, at times, distressing news feeds. This outbreak is a serious situation, of course, and we need to act responsibly. But retaining a sense of humor empowers us to find joy where we can. And in the midst of a pandemic, we need all the ~good vibes~ we can get.

In conclusion: This sucks. But wherever we go (or, for the sake of public health, don’t go), we can ensure that the Carolina community stays with us. GDTBATH.

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