It’s ironic that I chose the word “connect” as my 2020 word, just to find myself practicing “social distancing” three months into the year. Suddenly, instead of looking forward to coffee shop meetups, long chummy walks, and dinners with friends, my calendar is wide open and looking rather lonely.

Thankfully we live in an age where there are enough options to keep in touch without relying solely on one wall-mounted telephone. Whether you’re trying to stay in touch with friends and family, or you’ve got teens who are struggling with the lack of social interaction (even kids who are missing their grandparents), these apps and online services can keep the “social” in social distancing.

Main Photo by John Tuesday on Unsplash

Related: 5 of the best audiobook apps 

Safe socializing using tech: Netflix Party

Safe Socializing: Netflix Party

Though I know that some movie theaters are limiting the number of people they will allow in each theater to keep people apart, I will feel safer doing my viewing from home. But that doesn’t mean I have to watch alone: I can now pop a big bowl of popcorn and settle in to watch a movie, series, or documentary together with my BFF’s using Netflix Party, a Chrome extension that allows us to synchronize video playback on Netflix. There’s even a sidebar for group chat so you can all make comments throughout without being the annoying talker in the movie theater.

Just make sure you read the troubleshooting comments on the Chrome page for Netflix Party for some helpful tips on how best to use this new extension. It can be a little glitchy at times but hopefully those issues will be resolved soon.

Safe socializing using tech: Marco Polo app

Safe Socializing: Marco Polo app

While I like texting my group of friends, there’s something so nice about seeing their faces pop up on my phone too which is why I love the  Marco Polo app. Unlike other video conferencing options, we don’t all have to be on the phone at the same time; instead each one of us can record short video messages that are saved and viewed whenever the other person has a few moments to themselves (hopefully not locked in the bathroom while the kids pound on the door).

Using this app is super easy even for technophobes, and you can choose to talk to friends separately or in groups. I especially like that I can share a thought, story, or even talk about my worries at any time, without feeling like I’m interrupting anyone.

Related: 8 reality shows you can mindless binge watch because your brain needs a break

Safe socializing using tech: Zoom videoconferencing

Safe socializing using Zoom to host cocktail party: ArcTouch photo

Photo: ArcTouch

Although I initially thought of Zoom videoconferencing solely as a site my daughter is using to finish up her college classes this semester, I have heard of many clever people using it to host everything from happy hours, as shown above, to book club discussions. Though there are subscription plans, Zoom’s basic plan allows for meetings up to 40-minutes long which is perfect for those of us who can’t really hide away from the kids for too long.

And if you have talented friends–or friends who think they are talented–you can use Zoom for an “open mic night” of sorts to share poetry, music, readings, and comedy. Who wants to watch me perform the one song I know on the ukulele?

Safe socializing using tech: Create a private Facebook group

If your friends are already on Facebook, pulling them into a private Facebook group is super easy and private. I would use a private Facebook group to host a book club to help focus the conversation, but you could also choose to all watch a reality series like Love is Blind together and snark away after every episode.

Safe socializing using tech: Group FaceTime

Safe Socializing with Group FaceTime

Another good option for group meetings is Group FaceTime which works like regular FaceTime but can support up to–gulp–32 people at once, provided you are all IOS users. Just schedule a time that’s convenient and gather together to catch up at the end of another day in lockdown.

Related: The best, most-researched ways to keep all your devices and gadgets clean. 

Safe social distancing using tech: Jackbox games

Thanks to hilarious group games from Jackbox and videoconferencing services like Zoom or Google Hangouts, you can host game night with your friends without leaving the house. My extended family loves playing Jackbox’s Quiplash which is kind of like Apples to Apples, Not Parent Approved, or Cards Against Humanity (depending on who is playing), but with players making up their own answers to prompts instead of picking them from prewritten cards. In other words, if you’ve got funny friends, this game night will give you lots of belly laughs, something we can sure use right now.

Safe social distancing using tech: Become a gamer

Photo by Ion Şipilov on Unsplash

Challenge your friends to a night in headsets playing any one of the many games recommended by my 15 year old that are perfect for group play, like Rocket League, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, or one of the Borderlands games. Based on the stuff I hear coming from his mouth, this sounds like a fun way to let off some steam through gameplay. Or, if you’d prefer something not quite as, er, aggressive, the just-released Animal Crossing: New Horizons for Nintendo Switch may be more your speed.

Safe socializing using tech: Schedule a driveway–or balcony–party

Miss seeing your neighbors? Send out an email or text and invite everyone to their own driveway or balcony for time together–but far apart. No, you won’t be able to have intimate conversation with them, but you can put together a Spotify playlist of everyone’s requests for an embarrass-your-kids dance party. Or pull out the karaoke microphone and lead a sing-along even if you don’t have the pipes of an opera singer (I’m looking at you, Italy).

Have fun, stay connected, and be safe, friends.

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