We’re lucky that there are plenty of ways to stay in touch these days – tell us how you’re using tech to see and speak to your loved ones during the pandemic.
I went to a surprise party the other night: about 30 of us gathered to sing happy birthday to a friend and give him the birthday present we’d all clubbed together to buy him – some new DJ decks.
But don’t worry – even though he only lives over the river from me in Clapham, I wasn’t actually there. And neither was anyone else, except for his flatmate.
We had a virtual party for him, thanks to the thoughtful use of technology.
The tech in this case is Zoom, a videoconference platform that allows up to 100 people to join a meeting (though perhaps ‘meeting’ isn’t quite the right word), for up to 45 minutes for free (if you want longer, you’ll need to sign up to a paid package).
My friend’s flatmate, who had already received and stashed away the DJ decks, set up the meeting and sent out the virtual invite, with a warning to make sure we’ve all tested the tech and could join online in time for the delivery of the gift.
So when she brought him in to the room where the new decks were set up, we were all online waiting for him. We had friends joining from all over the country, as well as one who’d got stuck in Poland thanks to the outbreak, and even one from New Zealand.
These are strange and difficult times, but for me, one silver lining is that it’s happening in a time when we are all hyper-connected and that there’s so much technology available, much of it for free, to help us stay in touch with the people we love.
And of course, with work: I did a video call the other morning with colleagues to discuss our scams workstream.
I am grateful to my colleagues for their forebearance when my cat insisted on joining the meeting to share her opinions: she does not like my lap being occupied by a laptop.
I’ve already made a note to make sure she and I join the next Zoom session set up by a friend in Seattle organised for the express purpose of fussing distant friends’ pets.
Life through video calls
I did several video calls last week: one with a friend, and another to contribute to a local TV news programme, and earlier I’d used Google Duo to call my sister, who’s been locked down at her home in Lombardy with her husband and three daughters for more than a week.
It’s not just video: my family WhatsApp group has been a godsend, while the planning for the birthday party in Clapham took place via the old-fashioned method of email.
I’ve also been discovering the versatility of the Facebook Portal, which is much easier to set up than Alexa or Google’s video-calling devices. While many – understandably – won’t want a Facebook device in the house, it is nonetheless so simple to use that it’s worth considering if you have a family member who is unsure with tech.
Once set up you just put your favourite contacts on the home screen and all you have to do to start a call is tap that. Or, set it up using US/Canadian English and you can use voice control.
Another friend of mine is considering using a smart Chrome browser extension, Netflix Play, to organise a virtual viewing party. The extension allows you to pick something from the Netflix catalogue, create an invitation and send that to your friends.
Once everyone is signed in, you can watch the film, stop and start it and chat about it in the browser. We’re thinking we might do a Call The Midwife binge with that.
The occasional glitch!
There was one slight glitch with the birthday party last night: for some reason, when the birthday boy fired up his decks, the music wasn’t reaching those of us on the call.
However, there’s a tech solution to that, of course. Next time, he’ll use a £30 gadget that takes a feed from the mixer, connect that to his phone’s headphone jack and, via the phone, livestream either to Twitch or Facebook Live.
People worry about the impact of tech on our lives, but right now I’m very grateful indeed for it, and delighted by the creative ways people are using it to stay in touch.
How are you staying connected to your friends, your hobbies, your workplace and your loved ones? Let us know in the comments below.