With the increasing severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, students at the University have had their lives thrown into absolute disarray. With little to no warning, we’ve found ourselves needing to reevaluate and readdress the ways in which we live our lives, from tasks as simple as grocery shopping to something as intricate and convoluted as total academic upheaval.
But perhaps, nothing has suffered from social distancing so much as socialization itself — and while socialization may seem trivial in the face of a global pandemic, the truth is that it’s not. Humans, at the end of the day, are social creatures, which means that remote self-quarantine can be an incredibly stifling process at best and a psychologically distressing one at worst, no matter how many manuscripts we attempt to write and how many Dalgona coffees we make.
It should come as no surprise, then, that amongst all of this change and dynamism, people have started to adapt and improvise — largely out of necessity. There has been a radical transformation of the ways in which we interact with one another. Where technology was once demonized as the deathblow of human social interaction, it is now curiously the only way of bringing us all together under quarantine.
Video-conferencing platforms and apps like Zoom and Discord are reinventing how people interact and share their lives with each other. Some are holding birthday parties and bar mitzvahs over video chat, others create quarantine movie nights using Netflix Party to stream the same thing simultaneously, and it’s particularly popular for all, it appears, to play online games like Skribbl and Cards Against Humanity.
The University itself is opening up to the realm of virtual engagement — yoga classes are conducted on Zoom, a joint partnership between Acts of Kindness and Letters to Strangers facilitated a campus-wide letter exchange, and Wilson’s Coffee in the Commons still occurs on video-conferencing platforms — yes, you might have to bring your own coffee, but at least the companionship is still there. From remotely drinking together every time a “Glee” character says something vaguely problematic to making TikToks on FaceTime, there is no aspect of socialization and community that this transformation hasn’t touched or affected in some way.
Zoom, for instance, is no longer limited to academic lectures and personal hangouts; it’s almost become a “venue” of sorts, its services ranging from birthday parties to shabbat dinners. AnneMarie Caballero ’23 attended a birthday party for a friend last Wednesday on Zoom.
“We all got dressed up, made party hats and signs so we could surprise her, and then played games like Pictionary and Cards Against Humanity,” Caballero recounted. “Obviously, everyone would’ve rather celebrated in person, but at least we got to spend some time together, which is what’s important at the end of the day.”
Emily Della Pietra ’23 shared similar sentiments about virtually eating together at Zoom Shabbat.
“All of my friends and I have gone to Shabbat at the CJL every week at Princeton, and it was always a really important time for us to slow down and catch up on how crazy our weeks had been,“ she said. “It was a wonderful way to start the weekend, and I’m just so glad we’ve been able to continue it from afar.”
Not only have these platforms enabled people to continue socializing as they previously did — for example, Bharvi Chavre ’23 and her friends who, through “watch[ing] ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ simultaneously on Zoom,” are able to continue sharing and bonding over their favorite television show — but they’ve also allowed for people to take up new kinds of socializing. Natalie Reptak ’23 says she’s started working out as a consequence of the quarantine.
“I go on FaceTime with a friend, and we both start a workout YouTube video at the same time,” Reptak said. “It helps to do it with a friend because you don’t slack off or cheat. Effectively, you’re both holding each other accountable.”
There appears to be absolutely no limit to how varied these social affairs can be. Bhoomika Chowdhary ’23 says she and her friends do The New York Times Crossword puzzle together on Zoom.
Chowdhary is a contributing copy editor and contributing news writer for The Daily Princetonian.
“We used to do it every night sitting in Forbes,” Chowdhary said. “Now that we can’t physically hang out anymore, we still do it online. It’s a little thing, but it adds some semblance of normalcy back into our lives.”
It is the seeking of that semblance of normalcy, that need for interaction, that drives this radical transformation of socialization in the time of quarantine — and now that we’re here, it’s not unnatural to reflect on the very nature of socializing itself and what it means to you as a person and as a part of a greater community.
When asked what she’s taking away from self-quarantine, Reptak said, “I think, most of the time, we get so busy with work and other things that we feel like we don’t have the time to socialize with people that aren’t physically near us. Being in quarantine has radically changed my mindset about that. I’ve reconnected with a lot of people, and I’ve realized I don’t need to be physically close to someone to feel like I can communicate wholly and meaningfully with them.”
Alternatively, Srishti Ghosh ’23 has realized that, even with how amusing and, frankly, grounding social life on Zoom has been, the difference between this and in-person connection is still painfully vivid.
“As an extrovert, it has been incredibly difficult for me to stay motivated and energetic without being able to see my friends often,” Ghosh explains. “Obviously, to that end, Zoom has been a blessing, but it still feels so different and strange.”
Ghosh’s sentiment is not uncommon. In the midst of time zone differences and rigorous academic programs, socializing on Zoom can feel unnatural and scheduled, making apparent the little things we otherwise all take for granted like spontaneity and breeziness.
Ultimately, in a time of contagion and crisis, the ability to continue socializing, however different the way, is a beacon of light. And while socialization may feel easy to dismiss in the face of much grander and more perilous situations, it’s important to acknowledge and recognize the importance that interpersonal interaction plays in our daily lives.
“Even back on campus, if I went a day without seeing or meeting other people, I would feel it,” Sonika Bagchi ’23 said. “Now, I need to be in contact with people — or else, this isolation becomes too real.”
This is the reality for many people. Whether we realize it or not, we unconsciously carve out a great deal of our lives around socialization, which is why it’s so important to keep adapting with the times.
“There’s this theory about how the way we view ourselves, speak to ourselves, and narrate our own actions are things that get formed by our constant interactions with other people,” Bagchi said. “For me, I think that idea is very real. My sense of identity and belonging really is borne out the interactions I have with those around me, especially with the people I had around me at Princeton. And without those interactions and without those people, it becomes very easy to lose your sense of self.”
The quarantine has taught us many, many things. Working from home isn’t as cool as it seems, and Animal Crossing is apparently still a thing, and, importantly, we are people who need each other. While this situation is far from ideal, the fact that we still have access to one another is something to be grateful for. So, stay in, keep your hands clean, and Zoom somebody you love. They need it as much as you do.