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Social Media is a Mixed Blessing During Lockdown

EMILY PISACRETA, HOST: Practicing social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic means isolating ourselves from friends, family, and coworkers. Instead, we’re turning to social media to connect. But, is it helping us feel less alone? As Cecily Mauran finds, it depends on how you use it.

CECILY MAURAN, BYLINE: Now that we are forced to isolate, social media has suddenly become a lifeline to connect with other people. And it has made us get creative. Byron Go lives in Portland, Oregon. He organizes free form dance gatherings. For him, they’re a powerful outlet

BYRON GO: Being able to use the floor, like being able to dance not just on my feet, but on the floor like laying down kneeling, crawling, moving, you know, shuffling etc..

MAURAN: When the dancers couldn’t meet up in person anymore, Go started hosting gatherings on Zoom instead. It’s video conferencing software that makes meetings look like the extended family of the Brady Bunch. Imagine a grid of 45 screens - each from a different user. Go says he misses the collective energy from dancing together in person. But he likes that more people can participate online.

GO: On the one hand, there's something missing, right? There's something missing around being together and feeling that feeling. But on the other hand, there's so many more options.

MAURAN: And all over the world people have been finding creative ways to connect. Netflix says over a million subscribers have downloaded its new extension that allows users to watch the same content at the same time. And many fitness studios are offering free classes online.. But is all this digital socializing a good substitute for our pre-pandemic lives? Lu Dong, a behavioral psychologist at the Rand Corporation, says it can be...

LU DONG: I think one of the big thing….

MAURAN: Lu, I’m so sorry to interrupt. I'm so sorry to interrupt your your audio of astounding kind of cutting in and out. Yeah.

MAURAN: But you need a good wifi signal….to start.

DONG: It really depends on how people are using it, how their behavior, are they just passively receiving information. And also like what kind of information they're automatically getting.

MAURAN: Dong says passively scrolling through Instagram might make us feel more isolated, but active use, like video conferencing can be beneficial. Either way, with so much information being shared right now, Dong says set a time limit for social media. If you spend too long she says you could get depressed.

DONG: Either you want to devote like 30 minutes a day or an hour, it has to be kind of and be better to be structured and timed

MAURAN: Linda Kaye is a cyberpsychologist who studies our online behavior. She says it's the sense of participating and belonging to something, even virtually, that’s important. After all, the point of joining a soccer league, or a book club is about connecting with others.

LINDA KAYE: And even on a psychological level to know that you are in the same network as another person or share a commonality with a load of other people in a Facebook group, you've kind of got that psychological sense of connection.

MAURAN: But you wouldn’t play soccer or attend a book club for 10 hours straight.

KAYE: I think in terms of using social media and keeping a routine, I think it's more it's do do what you'd normally do, don't necessarily overuse it for the sake of it.

MAURAN: For Dudley Baker, an elementary school teacher, being on an email chain with some of his old Navy buddies, has given him the chance to reconnect.

DUDLEY BAKER: It's interesting to see guys who haven't communicated with each other for say 38 years plus who all of a sudden are digging up old photographs and sending them along and so we almost have a daily correspondence going on via email.

MAURAN: Baker, who is 66 remembers living through hard times.

BAKER: Going way back to the assassination of John Kennedy, that was a big shocker, followed by Martin Luther King, followed by Bobby Kennedy and then going onwards From there, the Vietnam War...

MAURAN: He tries to reassure younger people that this too shall pass. Until then, Linda Kaye, the cyberpsychologist says if you’re feeling overwhelmed, turn off your notifications. Unlike the real world, we can turn social media off. Cecily Mauran, Columbia Radio News.

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