Is it just me, or do none of my friends want to hang out in person anymore? What’s up with that? Every time I text the group chat like, “Drinks tonight?” without fail the response is a unanimous inquiry about the Zoom meeting ID. All of a sudden everyone is drinking alone in their apartments and absolutely refuses to meet me at our favorite gay bar to be loud and take up space I don’t have a job, I am not one to read the news or listen to anyone when they speak, so I remain in the dark as to why this could be. But I am nothing if not down to hang—and if these are the parameters of said hang, I can work with that. I can always be loud and take up space at my own apartment, just ask my roommates.
(Also, unrelated, but has anyone noticed a generally hostile vibe in the toilet paper aisle the last couple of weeks? I don’t buy toilet paper anyway, that’s what roommates are for. It just used to be the aisle I would go to, to calm down after walking by the razor aisle, since toilet paper seems to be the last toiletry we have found a way to gender and charge women more for. But now it’s starting to feel like nowhere is safe. Probably just in my head, though, right?)
If you, too, find yourself desperate for attention—I mean, social interaction—in a time where everyone inexplicably seems to only be available virtually, here are the best ways to make the most of it.
CONFERENCE VIDEO CHATS: THE BEST APPS TO USE
That’s right, they’re not just for pissing in front of your coworkers, anymore! (Did you guys see that video? Of the unfortunate soul who did not turn off her video on the company Zoom meeting before fully dropping trou and popping a squat? I won’t hyperlink it because the fact that anyone recorded it to begin with is what we refer to on planet earth as “pure evil,” but if you happen upon it on your own, you may do what we refer to as “laugh anyway,” despite yourself. It’s okay.) Experts agree that video conferencing can now be home to pleasant interactions, and not just mind-numbing status reports. A special exception for the circumstances. (Of which, to be clear, I am unaware. Do we still like this bit?)
So you and the gang have decided to take the leap. You’re ready to commit to waiting for one of you to simply not get the hang of video conferencing for the first thirty-five minutes. The question that remains: which platform do we use? These are my personal favorites, and I describe them in the only terms I know how: Mean Girls references. So get in, loser, we’re going video-calling.
You may have been hearing a lot of this girl’s name around school lately. She’s very popular, but she’s got skeletons in her closet. She’s kind of the Regina George of conference call software. We love to hate her but without her we would have no north star for what we should be looking for in other software. Zoom is great, intuitive and has some of the highest quality video-calling you’ll find. You can basically have as many people you want in any call, and as long as everyone knows to mute themselves when they aren’t talking, it can be quite the party. Like the party Kady didn’t invite Damien and Janis to, even. Huge.
The downsides? Calls only last 40 minutes unless the host of the call upgrades. (You can start a new call, though, so it’s not the end of the world.) They have also been criticized for some light data privacy and security problems. I famously have given my bank information to what might as well have been a Nigerian prince email, so I am not going to pretend to be an authority on this subject or even pretend that this is something I am particularly worried about! But you fine people deserve to have all the information, so there it is. Regina George told everyone that Janis Ian was a lesbian in eighth grade.
Where would we be without the classics? Skype is the OG. I remember using Skype as a child to talk to my relatives in the Netherlands. (Just wanted to remind you all that I grew up on the world wide web, and am therefore super young, but also just flex on having family in Europe. This was a great brag opportunity for me, I hope you understand.) I actually don’t really know why everyone else prefers Zoom over Skype these days, but in my personal experience it is slightly less intuitive and I get flashbacks to the time I did a very long audition process exclusively over Skype for a humiliating MTV dating show over the course of three weeks and I didn’t even end up doing it. I am sure that’s everyone’s reason, right?
The pure stats: Skype has a confusing username and contact interface, but allows up to 50 people on any call for free on just about any mobile device, tablet or computer. The time limit is more attractive, as it is 4 hours per call. But depending on who you’re conference calling, I gotta say the 40 minutes is a wonderful excuse to wrap it up before you get in a fight with your dad in front of the whole family. Maybe that’s just a me thing. Skype is Karen. All the same packaging as Regina, but not quite “all there.” Iconic, nonetheless.
It has seemed to turn into my life’s mission to inform everyone I know that instagram has a video chat feature and it rules. Somehow, I am the only person alive who seems to be aware of this feature, and I will not rest until everyone is empowered with this knowledge. Open any DM, click that little video camera icon in the upper right corner, and you’re rocking and rolling, honey. You can have up to six people per call, and you have all your story filters at your disposal. I recommend this most highly with one-on-one calling, but is fun in small groups, too.
This is an especially important epiphany for those of us in Android-iPhone friendships and relationships. Instagram sees no difference in your devices, after all they were both made by children. Now gaze into your own eyes in the video chat display and ignore your friends like God, Herself intended. Instagram is Kady, everyone is still getting to know her and so far they are mostly into the boobs and they don’t even realize she’s also really good at math. In this case, math is group video chats, and boobs are boobs. (Free the nipple, though.)
As Facebook slowly decays and turns into a place where boomers mostly just tag each other in things and comment stuff they should only be messaging privately, Facebook’s Messenger app continues to thrive and bring us together. I have been in the same Facebook group chat with my two best friends from summer camp since 2010. (Yes, I was in summer camp ten years ago. Young. Let me have this.) The three of us have been video chatting on Facebook since before it had its shit together whatsoever and we are glad we hung in there, because it is another ideal interface for smaller video calls.
Apparently Messenger allows up to 50 people per call, and I’m sure that’s great, but I personally have only tried with up to four and that to me is the personal maximum before just taking it to Zoom. We are all different, that’s what makes us beautiful! To me, the biggest selling point of using Messenger are the Augmented Reality filters and games. Messenger is the Janis because it’s cooler on the surface but ultimately doesn’t have all that much more to offer. Much like her funky haircut and self-made clothes, the filters and games are fun but you forget about them pretty quickly.
HOW TO ENTERTAIN YOURSELF OVER VIDEO CHAT
It’s easy to think the only way to have fun while video chatting is by taking your clothes off, but this isn’t 11th grade Snapchat anymore, okay? (Yes, Snapchat was around when I was in high school—I am very young and vibrant.) Also, before you get upset, the early 2010s were a different time! We didn’t have HBO’s Euphoria to teach us that sending your own seventeen-year-old tits to your seven-teen-year-old boyfriend is technically child pornography! We were expected to just know that. Drake was still crying over Rihanna, he wasn’t executive producing a teen drama about how child pornography is bad while simultaneously forcing us to watch fictional full-frontal teen nudity! The actors are over eighteen but the characters aren’t and we’re all confused! What was I talking about again?
Right. Entertaining ourselves on video chat. (Okay, it’s impossible for that to not sound sexual, right? Is that just me?) Eventually, talking about how much it sucks not having a job anymore is going to grow tired and you’re gonna need to find another way to keep the delicate thing we call “human relationships” afloat. Below are some of the things I’ve tried with my friends or have blatantly stolen the idea from friends’ Instagram stories.
Okay, my friends and I didn’t even have a “game night” before this, but we do now. We all had to re-learn how to play this timeless game, because before this our favorite thing to do was stare at our phones together. But now that we have to put effort into our relationships, this is actually a perfect game to play over video chat. We divide into teams and just have everyone pull up a word suggestion generator on their phones for their turn. We used this one, but there are truly thousands. Have fun.
2. Working out
Accountability on your personal fitness seems to fly out the window when the window is our only access to the outside world anymore. My friends and I have taken it upon ourselves to do all the free trials of every fitness app and do the workouts together over Zoom. Be sure to only do this with people you feel comfortable absolutely humiliating yourself in front of. So far the fitness subscription with the trainers I hate (in a good way) as much as I hate instructors in real life is Obe, but I am not trying to pay for anything in these trying times. So for youtube recommendations that cost no money after your free trial, my favorite channel by far is MadFit, specifically her song workout videos. They are really hard, but very fun, super quick, and a blast to watch you and your friends fail at! Yes, all the songs on the playlist are pop, please forgive. Fingers crossed for a My Chemical Romance workout video soon.
3. Netflix Party
For this one, you’re going to need two separate devices. One of which needs to support whatever video chat you’re using, and the other needs to have Google Chrome and a Netflix password. The Chrome extension Netflix Party allows you and your friends to watch a Netflix movie at the exact same time, with a chat feature built-in to the video player. If you want to up the ante, I recommend adding the video chat component to simulate the real experience of watching with your friends. To avoid the movie echoing, connect your headphones to the device playing the movie, and have your group video call’s audio out loud. Obviously only do this with movies that are made better by talking over them. All the Austin Powers movies are Netflix, for example.
4. Tarot & birth chart readings
Fear not, you can still refer to your group of friends with absolutely no relationship to the ancient Pagan religion of Wicca as a coven! Whip out your Tarot deck (don’t act like you don’t have one) and give your friends readings like any of you know anything about any of it! It’s mildly disrespectful to something regarded to many as sacred, but burn some sage and vaguely go through the motions, it’s fine. We need all the distraction we can right now. Avoid taking the gloomy cards too seriously, right now. You can just open the “trending” page on Twitter for that. If you do not have a Tarot deck and want one, it is important to mention that it is considered bad luck to buy one for yourself. Time to kiss some ass! Furthermore, now more than ever is the time to dig your teeth into a new cult and pull up your incredibly long birth chart. My personal favorite starting point for beginning your addiction to astrology is Cafe Astrology’s natal chart calculator. Boom. Hours of entertainment, you’re welcome.
5. Coffee dates
A lot of us spent a lot of time in cafes in our previous lives. Those days are over. But writing silently “across” from a loved one doesn’t have to be behind us. If you are a “creative” like myself who likes having a friend to bounce ideas off of and just the general accountability of another living being being vaguely aware of the intention you have set for yourself, set up regular coffee dates with your pals, brew yourself a cup of your apartment’s finest instant coffee, and at least go through the motion of getting to work. Something will come out eventually. Even if at first it’s just “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!” Zoom has great screen-sharing features if you want to attempt a screenplay right now and you for some reason want the experience of it being read over your shoulder. Google docs is always also a great resource for making your work vulnerable to your friends’ criticisms. But reading tweets aloud to each other is fine, too.
6. Chopped-style cooking and dinner parties
If you miss breaking bread with other actual human beings and participating in the most communal act we have as a species, set up a cooking and dinner party with you friends and family. Keep it simple and just chat while you cook and eat, or spice it up with a little challenge. Identify ingredients that you all have in common at your disposal and then see what you all separately come up with. In all likelihood, it’s gonna be some kind of rice and bean, but maybe someone will have the chutzpah to make a black bean-crust pizza and embarrass everyone else at their own lack of creativity! We may not be able to physically touch each other but we can always hurt one another in other ways. Remember that.