As our new conditions, and their longevity, begin to sink in it’s important to recognise that life doesn’t stop. Zoom meetings, Insta live gigs, Houseparty happy hours. Our old habits find new homes. We’ve already spawned an old, new way of living. We’ve found novel ways to interact, to experience and to consume as we always have.
Yet, self-isolation is changing our relationship with ourselves and society. Change is unsettling. But change is also unexpected empathy, new relationships with technology, and an appreciation for simpler pleasures. New behaviours are already developing as humans begin to navigate their new reality. It’s a new, new world. We’re no longer hiding behind conventions and codes. As social media becomes our only means of interaction, people are showing another side to themselves. During this crisis, it’s clear the rules do not apply – which makes you wonder why there were rules in the first place? With no end in sight, brands must adapt and pivot to the new normal.
THE OLD NEW
Your Social Life, Reimagined.
A man named David Chriswick from Swansea has opened his own online pub, The Stay Inn. With quiz nights, live music and a virtual landlady called Anne, he’s already built an international clientele. It’s always open and there’s no last call. Virtual social spaces like these are helping us beat feelings of loneliness and isolation. Unsurprisingly Zoom has seen its stock price jump nearly 30% in the past month. On the event page for a virtual college party—“Ok, Zoomer. A Party”— more than 69 people logged on to a Zoom call on a Friday night, adding songs to the collaborative quarantine-themed Spotify playlist in the background. People are hosting pub quizzes, bingo and happy hours with friends online. The internet has become a lifeline for artists and performers looking to be seen and heard outside the walls of their homes. What’s been unexpectedly positive has been the lack of (virtual) distance and cleared schedules means we finally have time for everyone in our lives.
Looking Good, Felt Better.
As we delve deeper into solitude, content has been a lot more creative on the timeline. Seemingly, that’s what hundreds of artists have been up to since going into self-isolation. There’s high-drama makeup created just for the gram and bedrooms transformed into full-on photo studios. We’re getting dressed up to stay home, like Love Island. Without a world outside to work with, people are simply using themselves as a canvas to create new characters to play with.
Viral Instagram account @WFHFits shows people haven’t let self-isolation stop them from serving looks. It’s a feed of quarantiners sharing their couture at-home outfits – amassing over 14,000 followers in a week. In similarly defiant vein, Man Repeller has coined the hashtag #GoingNowhereButFuckitImGettingDressed. Each day brings a steady stream of submissions, which offer not just a good look at what people opt to wear in the comfort of their own home but also reassurance that you’re not alone. Sometimes to feel good, you need to look it.
Quarantine has been great for memes. In the same way that people joke about climate change or politics, dark subjects make for potent meme material somewhere between sincere and ironic. There’s an insane amount of coronavirus memes being created and spread every day. We’re seeing internet humour evolving overnight. “Zoom Memes for Self Quaranteens,” already has over 385,000 members. Group chats are popping off. So much so that researchers have opened up a portal for the public to share and catalog coronavirus memes — currently available in English, Dutch, Chinese, Korean, Polish and Russian. Unsurprisingly, humour is uniting us. It’s about keying in on the common threads that all we have in our new lives.
THE NEW NEW
‘Love Is Quarantine’ is ‘Love Is Blind’ for the socially distant. Hopefuls apply via a Google doc before founders Lam and Nix match them up. Once selected and their calls scheduled, people are asked to record their dates (and their post-date reviews) which are then uploaded to the projects page. Every night of dates marks a new ‘season’ of the show. Over 500 people applied for season 2. The most recent iteration welcomed over 60s for ‘Boomer Night.’ There are fan favourites and dedicated gossip threads. The project has already spawned copycat editions in the UK, Canada, Colombia and India. The fallibility of this low-budget production is part of the charm. It’s a total departure from the manicured face of Instagram. The appetite shows we’re craving simpler human connections, and to get our fix we’re stripping back boundaries.
The Social Distance Project does just that. The site, now free on Instagram, was a charitable community forum, where people donated a dollar in order to read confessions from couples adjusting to co-quarantine. It turns out, we desperately want to know what goes on behind closed doors. The project raised $6,000 in just three days. The stories shine a light on the household tensions that no longer earn airtime. But people are in search of a place they can gather and confide. The drama is trivial, but deeply relatable, as we all navigate forced intimacy together. Without a steady stream of brunches and beaches, social media is becoming a more authentic insight into lives spent inside.
Taking the I out of Internet.
Social media used to offer community in a somewhat superficial way. Followers, instead of friends. Comments, instead of conversation. But isolation means this surface level interaction isn’t enough to sustain us, nor does it feel meaningful anymore. So things are changing. Creatives are entertaining and teaching, live-streaming from their home to ours. It’s easy to be cynical, and maybe we should be. Are we just watching people build their personal brands? Perhaps, but we should accept that. It’s uplifting. It’s free. When else will you get the invite anywhere with DJ D-Nice and Michelle Obama? James Bay has announced he’ll be giving guitar lessons of his songs. Christine and the Queens are performing a series of livestream shows from Paris, while Miley Cyrus puts together a series of daily online events on Instagram Live. Even cello master Yo-Yo Ma’s is posting daily performances – and they’re as pure as you’d think. Sure this all may be self-serving, but it feels earnest and helpful.
We participate in online life so often as lurkers or broadcasters. Going live used to just be about how many people were watching. Now we’re thinking more about how to genuinely engage. You don’t have to be famous for people to tune in. We’re not retreating into video games or online personas. People are opening up their homes. Instead of seeing what we can get out, we’re seeing what we can offer.
Hardwired for Community.
Games of tennis played through windows, films projected on buildings, DJ sets from roof tops. In a video, dozens of people in Seville are seen doing squats and star jumps on their balconies as a man in sportswear motivates them from a platform below. Strangers interacting unexpectedly in isolation has provided much-needed joy during a particularly lonely period. Contrary to the mood on most social platforms, TikTok too has felt particularly inclusive. Once unintelligible to anyone outside Gen Z, TikTok is now home to content from users as varied in age and demographic as Facebook. Dads drop it to Megan Thee Stallion. Families bond over elaborately scrounged dinners. The BBC News intro becomes a club banger. The app has always been a window into people’s homes; just now that amounts to the full extent of our lives.
From Wuhan to the US people are sharing not only memes about their experiences but also the impacts that coronavirus has had on their lives, creating an unlikely community. Pandemics dictate we avoid others around us – isolation is safety and interactions breed fear. Yet we’re seeing people take exceptional lengths to connect in the most trivial ways – just look at the global spread of balcony bingo. The content we’re gravitating towards doesn’t seem to offer anything more than comic relief. Yet it’s watching people shrug off social norms and connect, that feels most reassuringly human amidst everything else that is wrong.
The old, new way of living already feels routine. We’re still connecting just as often as we used to, just no longer in the same room. We’re still getting dressed and ready, just to go downstairs. In some ways, things haven’t changed. But, of course they have. It’s this new, new way of living that’s teased out a new depth to our interactions. Social media is finally becoming (gasp) social. We’re becoming more intimate, empathetic and uninhibited online. In the midst of this attitudinal change, brands must recalibrate. Welcome to the new normal.