Like many, my whole life became pixelated once COVID-19 took over the globe. As the virus marches on to the beat of “I’m sorry, can you hear me?,” it is imperative we address our collective online etiquette. With extreme platforms on the rise like Parler, it seems like the miscommunication chasm of the internet increases daily. As a college student, full-time intern, freelance journalist and budding poet whose career depends on Instagram, my digital presence has been put on steroids. As a Gen Z kid, I was confident I could handle the migration to Zoom. But my mental health was plummeting swiftly—I missed in-the-flesh human interaction.
Over the course of Zoom University, I’ve developed physical pain in my hands, wrists, and eyes.
My essence is now in a Brady Bunch style box across schools or work meetings where people freeze or someone suddenly poofs out of the Zoom room. My friends laugh about our professors and parents struggling with the move online but people our age are also grappling with the change too, albeit different ways. I can’t give you a physical gathering but I can offer some advice on handling the astronomical increase of screen time brought on by the pandemic.
Lets put more humanity into our online interactions as a collective. I hope that figuring out how to spend more time conveying how you are in person will help you socially, romantically, and professionally. To many, it may seem unimportant to say this but I disagree. I promise tailoring your online presence to reflect who you are makes a world of difference.
TRIAGE TIME: PRIORITIZE YOUR LIFE BY APP FIRST
Before we get into it, I want to share a tip that has helped me preserve a lot of my sanity: attending to social media platforms by importance. Zoom fatigue is very real and was at first, something I felt very embarrassed about. After another day of Zoom fatigue some months ago, I started keeping track of numbers. Quantitatively the results are shocking: one day I spent 14 hours of screen time on my iPhone from school to my job to my own creative endeavors. Some days where I had a lot of classes, I would have to cancel Zooms to just recharge my corneras. Even with blue light blocking glasses, I still get digital migraines.
My screen time mathematically:
my laptop for work + my laptop for leisure + TV + my iPhone = way too much
First of all, triaging what digital duties I need to tend to first helps me quell some anxiety. In my brain, I have a list of what to go to first which helps me figure out how much time I need to spend where (digitally speaking). Attending to my inboxes in order of importance has helped me immensely as follows. Here is mine on an average work day:
- Phone calls (often none)
- Email (work)
- Email (school)
- Instagram messages
- Email (personal)
- Facebook notifications
We are all going to experience stress at some point so it’s a matter of delegating that stress. That’s where my logic for this section comes from!
Before COVID-19, email was already important for my career as a full-time student, intern and budding artist. However, I was also much more likely to talk to the other person in person. Particularly going to a small liberal arts college, it was likely I would run into many familiar faces on the way to and from the class itself! Without this luxury of being able to see people in person, email took on a whole new value.
When I know how much needs to be tended to, I can also save up my screen time for personal time too. So if I want to watch a movie at night, my eyes won’t be really tired. Or if I know my friend is having a Zoom birthday party, I know to be more conscientious of screen time that day. I was getting tired of having to shift or cancel obligations because of Zoom migraines and or eye soreness. Embrace the power of triaging for your time and your sanity.
I encourage at least 10-minute breaks for every hour you have to look at a screen. Chucking my phone under a pile of blankets helps. I asked for funds from my school to get some physical books so I could reduce screen time. With friends and clients, I’ll communicate verbally. I’m slower at replying to texts than normal. Emails I have to approach with newfound vigilance because I don’t get a chance to simply see the sender in person at an office hour or what have you.
The ruling philosophy behind my constitution for the digital age is to humanize online interactions. while you can’t emulate in-person interactions 100% online, i: important to try and convey your genuine personality online. After all, we’re not different people in front of and behind the screen. Here are 5 tips that could possibly help us all!
I. CAMERAS ON PLEASE
I strongly prefer when people have their cameras on during video chats, especially in intimate settings groups and moments. But I get it, some people can’t. I feel more comfortable in aZoom if I at least know why your cameras off—at least acknowledge it! Doing so shifts the energy of a Zoom and makes me feel more connected when I can see people’s faces. I’ve also been in awkward situations where I am meeting someone new but never see their face; therefore, I leave the space having no idea what this college/co-worker/classmate looks like! But I understand that many people are not in spaces where they can have their cameras on or have wifi issues, etc.
Seeing someone’s facial cues is the closest the majority of us will get to human interaction. I say this not to shame people into leaving their cameras on 24/7, but to stay in line with the theme of this piece: let’s make online interactions more human. Would we do that in person? Would be put a black piece of paper in front of our face to talk to someone, especially if that person is sharing a vulnerable story?
No and no.
Video on makes a difference and I wish people would address that more moving forward in 2021. Safe to say that talking to a black square void with someone’s name on it is not the greatest experience. It ain’t comfortable.
II. WATCH YOUR TONE
Psychology Today and The Huffington Post both report communication is the number one reason for break ups. The digital world excaveraties the issue of miscommunication because we don’t have eye contact and body language accessible. Thus, typing out the tone we want to strike is crucial. In other words, sounding like yourself online has never been more pressing!
It’s important that your employer/friend/lover/ex-lover/parent knows how you’re saying what you’re saying. From work to your social life, sounding more like how you sound in real life helps you come off more unique. If you reflect back on your life, the memorable people in your life have probably had some common denominators. For me, those people write to me in ways that convey sound like how they talk–which is great! I prefer humans over bots. Thus, when I can read something and get a sense of your personality I am more keen to have a good impression of said person.
When we aren’t mindful of tone, we run the risk of coming off robotic. Arguably worse, we run the risk of coming off generic. Many people, myself included, can attest to an astronomical rise in the amount of digital messages received nowadays (i.e text, direct messages, emails). Communication is harder online but it really comes down to one thing: tone. How do you want what you say to come off? Befriend emojis. Throw in a GIF every now and then. As silly as it sounds, it really does make a difference. Key and Peele have a great sketch called “When a Text Conversation Goes Very Wrong” that exemplifies just this.
III. INFUSE HUMOR AND PERSONALITY INTO YOUR WORDS
One way of communicating this is to pay more attention to the connotation of punctuation. “OK.” vs. “OK!” give off a different tone. As aforementioned, one GIF or emoji can make a huge difference to a message. Likewise, one GIF or emoji can take away the professionalism one could be trying to convey in an email to your boss or professor. It’s all about context. Remember: the goal of this article is to help humanize how we interact online! We want to talk to humans, not bots. Especially in an era of isolation, every click on “sent” counts.
IV. THE POWER OF EMOJIS
Finally, it would behoove me to mention the all-encompassing power of emojis. As the clumsy can attest to, sending “ 😉 ” when you meant a normal 🙂 face is a total shift in mood. Punctuation matters too! A period is a game-changer like “OK.” vs “OK!” The golden rule we learn from childhood onward of treat others the way you want to be treated is extremely applicable to not just this tip but all three sections.
How do I know all this? I was a nerdy kid who spent a lot of days on Neopets, Gchat, Club Penguin and Runescape. Chat boxes and messaging were the way to interact and that meant a lot of “ xD” and “ ^___^”. I’m also a poet and journalist so word choice has always been something I’ve been keen about.
All this said I know that this whole article might seem too persnickety. But I think as we stay locked in an online world, semantics and communication with another is the only way to really keep safe social interactions. Therefore I find it crucial that we humanize the way we write to each other online and also take steps to fight isolation.
V. ONE-ON-ONE HANGOUTS
I’ve actually made some great friends over quarantine! The secret is just private messaging them to hang one-on-one! It makes me feel like I’m passing a sticky note in grade school but it’s so far been effective. Sometimes it’s to study. Sometimes it’s for virtual coffee. Sometimes it’s ask them about the Mariah Carey shirt they wore of who I also love.
To conclude, I want us to collectively work on making digital interactions more realistic and human. We spend more screen time now than ever before but that doesn’t mean things like eye contact still matter. I’m confident these tips will behoove you immensely during quarantine and beyond. They are tacit guidelines I really do abide by daily when I’m online. It’s helped my mental health immensely too.
Hopefully your online interactions can better mimic how life used to be pre-COVID after reading this. Let this article be what the founding fathers didn’t do—a digital constitution for the modern era.