Within minutes of waking up Sunday morning, I grabbed my iPhone and turned off airplane mode. It was 9:48 a.m., and I was nearly an hour late for my friend’s birthday brunch. I opened my computer and clicked the Zoom link. Seven floating heads, most of whom were complete strangers, greeted me in my robe.
It was only my first digital party, but I was already exhausted.
Somehow, my time in isolation has both amplified and severely streamlined my social life. Why are we all doing so much? Since social distancing started in Los Angeles, where I live, I’ve been inundated with invitations to do stuff virtually. Everyone is on a mad dash to find a hobby, be productive and make the most of their time in isolation. Before the pandemic, we were overworked and overbooked. Now, our millennial burnout has quickly transformed into a fully remote operation.
Since I have started self-quarantining, I’ve gotten drunk at a virtual happy hour, caught up with friends at a virtual goal club, and streamed yoga and dance classes — sometimes alongside celebrities. I participated in a digital training on a program I’ll never use, and I RSVPed to a Zoom panel on how to beat capitalism during coronavirus, which unfortunately I didn’t attend because I decided a nap was more important. Just this Saturday, I told my best friend I would watch her boyfriend DJ from their living room via a split screen on Instagram Live.
When I extended the invite to others via a group text, one person responded: “I got invited to three different DJ sets tonight. Is that a new thing now?”
I get it, we’re bored.
But that can be a good thing. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. I mean, you’ve seen the tweets: Isaac Newton first started to theorize about gravity while quarantined during the plague. There is value in doing nothing. Studies have shown multitasking with digital media can heighten stress and anxiety. Meanwhile, psychologists say boredom helps stimulate the imagination and tap into our true creativity. That’s in part why they tell parents not to overschedule kids during the summertime.
Social media, of course, feeds this craving to constantly be doing something. It transports us into other people’s living rooms and begs us to broadcast and monetize our daily lives. If you’ve read Jia Tolentino’s “Trick Mirror,” you’re familiar with this concept, which she illustrates through “the ideal woman.” The ideal woman is highly visible, highly curated and highly optimized, always appealing and mostly generic: She eats at the fast casual restaurant Tender Greens for a quick and nutritious meal; she works out at the bizarrely popular cardio class barre for optimal toning with the least amount of sweat.
This default to optimize makes sense when we’re leading busy lives (from work to commute to the gym to dinner to email to Netflix to bed). But why are we still optimizing when we have nowhere to go and no one to see? Now is the time to deconstruct the ideal woman: To log off Instagram, put on our pajama pants and make a meal that is so visually unappealing that we’d never share it with anyone else.
This is all to say: If you’re privileged enough to be in a position to stay at home and have a place to live, stare at those four walls. Alone time allows for a level of introspection that you just can’t get in a group. Sure, we’re inherently social people and relationships benefit our health. But there’s also research in favor of the introverted lifestyle, which Jenn Granneman points to in her book “The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Secret World.” When we’re hanging out with others, we’re still multitasking. We’re managing other people’s emotions and using energy that we just wouldn’t have to expel if we were by ourselves.
“It’s nearly impossible to have nuanced, rich thoughts when you’re engaging with others,” Granneman writes.
The abrupt lull in our daily lives has created a panicked sense of cabin fever before it’s even truly arrived. We have no idea how long businesses will be closed, but it’s safe to say the novel coronavirus will be a lingering part of American life for at least a year. Some people do seem to be coping well with the downtime.
“I’ve been training all my life for this. Raised like an only child with older parents,” one friend texted after buying an embroidery kit on Etsy to make what she called “hipster cactuses.” And then there’s my mom. The pandemic has transformed her into a political cartoonist who draws hilarious photos of 2020 presidential candidates. When I asked her about her newfound talent, she said it was born out of boredom.
Whether you like it or not, 2020 is asking us to find ourselves. Maybe you already know who you are. Or maybe you’ve been buried in the grind of daily life: You’re used to running on adrenaline, sitting in traffic or spending too much time on public transit, going from one thing to the next, too tired to be curious at the end of the day. Now is your chance to escape: Put your phone on airplane mode and think. It’s important that we stay connected but we don’t have to overdo it.
Who do I want to be at the end of the world? I definitely don’t want to be stressed and double booking Internet activities. The reality is this: It’s only the beginning of this pandemic.