“Flatten the curve”; were we ever so young? Two years later, both our pandemic and personal curves decidedly not flattened, winter-pale and world-weary from clawing our way through a Greek alphabet of virus variants, The Observer has learned a thing or two about thriving online during The End Times, and we’re happy to share the wealth.
First: Always, always use the camera preview. Zoom, Skype, Google Meet — whatever the platform of your (or your employer’s) choice — take a good, long look at that background and reflect on what you see. Is that copy of “The Turner Diaries” from your AP History class still lingering in your library, threatening to paint you forever in screenshots as a secret white nationalist? Have you fallen prey to an overzealous use of the ring light, your face aglow on the screen as surely was Moses’ at the foot of the burning bush? Have you lingered too long on the “sort bookshelf by color” trend and need to make amends? Did you fail to edit your screen name after last night’s MMORPG sesh, in which you christened your level 27 Druid “Buttf***er 3000?” Get right before you hit that “Join Meeting” button, readers.
Staying connected to other human beings in some form or fashion helps stave off the anxiety that bubbles with every pandemic wave. But of course you don’t want to see anyone with your actual bare eyeballs, or talk to them in person, lest aerosolized viruses might be exchanged. One zero-contact option: Try Wordling your way through 2022. It’s the breadmaking fad of the omicron era, but better because you don’t have to hunt for yeast packets during supply chain shortages like we all did back in 2020. Wordle gives you six tries to guess a five-letter word, which is a fine way to burn through three minutes of your day. The best part is the share function, allowing you to post your results to Twitter, thereby virtue signaling to the internet that you are alive! You are a fun person who likes clever games! You are here to socialize in an extremely peripheral, low-stakes way!
Next up, get you a TikTok profile. Not at the expense of all else, mind you — you’re gonna need Instagram for NatGeo eye candy, and for when your bread turns out pretty. You’re gonna need Twitter for breaking news and to soak up hilarious hot takes from the worldwide web of bitter journalists. You’re gonna need to keep Facebook, obvs, because how the hell else will you keep up with your distant cousins and the dwindling pool of high school classmates who haven’t yet burned you with a solicitation for a multilevel marketing scheme? But TikTok, that algorithm yet unspoiled by an influx of monetizing corporations (not you, Duolingo, you’re cool), is somewhat successfully clinging to its identity as a creative wild west — a more intimate, vulnerable forum that doles out its video delights in easily digestible three-minute servings, and in which the content is arranged a little less like debate club and a little more like a card catalog. Granted, dance routines and high-speed kitchen tutorials do occupy a disproportionately large share of real estate, but there are all sorts of corners devoted to niche interests you never knew were interesting: Foraging! AirBnB hidden gems! A new generation of Brooks & Dunn enthusiasts! Suspicious and unidentified structures that show up on Google Earth! TikTok is vast and global, but there’s plenty on the local front to fall head over heels for, too. Fonda LaFemme, the reigning queen of the Miss Arkansas Continental drag pageant, is serving up Amazonian-scale angel wings, sexy Santa routines, piano vignettes and a face perpetually beat for the gods on her blossoming profile. And never will your worries melt away as quickly as they do while you watch Abbi’s Teas & Things froth up some energizing matcha with a bamboo whisk, or slow-motion-pour a golden blend of spearmint and rosehips into a clear glass to a luxury-spa soundtrack. Even politics can be a bit more palatable there; follow Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor Kelly Krout’s profile for bite-sized explainers on net neutrality, abortion, gun ownership and what a midterm election is (and why it’s so important).
Finally, and speaking of policy, we’re soberly reminded that the high-speed internet that fuels all manner of human connection lauded above — work, enrichment, frivolity, couture tea-pouring videos — still lies disproportionately in the hands of the well-off and the white. For all the dumb shit there is on the internet, and for all the perils of screentime addiction, access to it can also spark an intellectual and civic life worth pursuing — one that can help us imagine the way we want things to look outside the frame of the computer screen. It contains worlds. And knowing what we know now, having relied on it so heavily during pandemic times, don’t we want a bigger chunk of humanity to have a go at that?