VIRTUAL IS THE NEW HANGOUT: SOME STUDENTS SAY IT EVEN HAS ITS BENEFITS

Friends catching up over a Zoom call. Illustration by Valerie Chan.

Kevin Vera was delighted for the fun day ahead. He was finally going to catch up with some friends after a long, exhausting work week. After rolling out of bed, he brushed his teeth and made himself some breakfast.

Then, he took out his phone, feeling a wave of excitement rush through his body. The long-awaited fun moment had finally arrived:

A Facetime call.

For Chapman students like Vera, Facetime has become the new normal. In some ways, some students say, it’s not all that bad.

What once was Friday nights out and hangouts at the newest joint in town has shifted towards frequent video calls from his own room. Facetime has become a vital source of connection for Vera and his long distance friends. He’s not alone.

According to the International Journal of Information Management, Internet service has almost doubled during the pandemic. BusinessofApps reported that video-conferencing apps such as Zoom soared in usage rate from 10 million participants to more than 300 million since April 2020.

Rise in Zoom usage from December 2019 to April 2020. Illustration by Ethan Williams.

It’s clear that the Covid-19 pandemic has redefined friendships. The Zoom surge has dominated the way people stay connected to friends. For some it works; for others, not so much.

Vera, a senior public relations and advertising major, has found ways to get creative with virtual communication.

“My buddies and I started a DraftKings League; it’s like sports gambling,” he explained. “We also set up Zoom meetings where we play board games, or like card games. We’ve gotten innovative with the way we interact.”

Zoom hasn’t hurt friendships, he said, but may even have intensified them:

“I think our intentions to maintain and continue growing our friendships is what’s coming to light in the past year or so.”

Ashley Kranjac, Chapman sociology professor, points out the contrast between in-person and online friendship.

“The biggest difference would be the subtle cues that we’re able to pick up from in-person interactions,” Kranjac said. “When you’re in front of somebody, you’re more willing to turn to them and start speaking to them one-on-one if you’re in a group setting. It can be more difficult to do that online.”

No question quarantine has made students think about these things, Kranjac said.

“You start to recognize how much you value family, and close friends, and not being able to see them, so you want that interaction more, because this has been obviously super isolating for all of us,” she said. “I think we all sort of acknowledge how much we are as social beings.”

Kranjac stays optimistic about a post-Covid world, all with a few safety precautions.

“I think there will be a greater desire to be more social and to be around people, albeit in a different way,” she explained. “Maybe wearing masks more, maybe staying further away from other people, because this is definitely going to have an effect on the way people see viral transmission.”

Senior production design minor Amanda Goldstein. Photo courtesy of Amanda Goldstein.

Senior production design minor Amanda Goldstein said that using Facetime has helped her keep in touch with friends.

Amanda Goldstein hanging out with friend Taylor Johnston. Photo courtesy of Amanda Goldstein.

“I’m a big Facetime gal,” Goldstein said. “The friends that I’m close with, we’ve gotten closer. It’s actually been good for my social life.”

For Brian Anderson, a junior public relations and advertising major, Covid has made him feel disconnected from his friends.

“I think me and my friend, we definitely communicate through just social media and texting,” Anderson said. “I definitely feel like my friendships have gotten weaker. It affects your friendships, just not being able to go to class.”

Junior graphic design minor Kate Cheong has found ways to meet up with friends during the pandemic.

“I have only been seeing a handful of people,” she said. “A lot of the weekends we spend hanging out with each other. Sometimes I try to get lunch, or get coffee, with friends that I know are being safe.”

However, Cheong expressed the strain that she feels Covid has put on maintaining communication with one another.

“I don’t think I’ve lost any friendships because of Covid,” she said. “But definitely with the pandemic, and not being able to go to class, or see people as often, it’s harder to communicate because I feel like people lose motivation, and you have to take that extra step [to keep in touch].”

Since Kevin Vera’s initial Facetime, he’s made at least one Facetime call per week. He now recognizes it just weaved its way into part of his weekly routine.

In fact, Vera feels that being part of a growing digital age has made it easier to maintain friendships.

“Nothing’s changed really during Covid,” he said. “Right now, we live in a very digital world so it’s easy for people to maintain relationships. I would say that seeing each other in person has become more complicated.”

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