Written by Xiomara Damour.
Art by Tess Young.
Death and devastation are not the only things Miss Rona has brought with her into 2020. URL spaces are cropping up all over the web that manage to safely challenge social distancing orders and satisfy our need to connect. These virtual communities are worlds of their own. People share meeting IDs that send you to the darkest, sweatiest, and funkiest corners of Zoom, operating as part grassroots movement and part nightlife promotion.
The desire to log online and connect with strangers on the internet isn’t new. Remember your Club Penguin or Neopets friends? We have always looked for ways to reach people outside of our immediate circles to form distance bonds. Because of our mandated social isolation, for some of us the trouble is–this is our only way to feel less alone. By seeking ways to return to each other we have become more mindful of the ways we can offer up virtual solidarity to others. Initiatives like #ShareMyStimulus direct people who find themselves with some extra cash in offering a portion of it to grassroots organizations who are working to provide relief to those most affected by the virus. These virtual spaces can bind us together into one full-screen, speaker-view room where you might find yourself stanning as hard as you’ve ever stanned before for every panned-over participant.
I hope…[t]he bonds we’ve formed and the newfound care we have for one another online can remind us to treat each other with dignity and respect IRL.
Staying plugged in has caused our relationship with the internet and with each other to take different forms. We are now more conscious than ever of our internet presences and the images we use to pixelate the nuances of our personalities. We are pushing our internet bandwidths to their limits with our nagging tendency to stay “active now” and face headfirst invasive notifications claiming that our screen time was up 20% last week. I’ve even found myself turning a more thoughtful eye on my Instagram aesthetic and questioning if and how my posts and bio capture who I am. I’ve also given more critical thought into the type of content that I want directed at me. This increased focus on our URL platforms entices us to create our own spaces meant to attract more contact from strangers who may hopefully make our little corners of the internet feel less lonely.
The only things that separate us are the malleable boundaries of time and space, easily modified by a few clicks, a little extra screen time, and a bit of preparation to open our hearts…
As stay-at-home orders begin to loosen and the chance to see friends IRL appears more possible, will we forget about the URL connections that made staying home not so bad, after all and the feeling of community that came with it? Just like children navigating the role-player worlds of the web, there will come a time when the outside world’s appeal will begin to increase. When that time comes, we’ll find ourselves spending less time in front of our screens and reserve our free hours for real life experiences. With so many of us missing our IRL loved ones and seeking all the ways to make up for lost time, we might not be as willing to do the work necessary to translate our computerized affections into tangible ones. The recipients of our mutual aid funds and our dance partners on the many encoded dancefloors of Zoom may be reduced to guest stars in a particularly traumatic episode in the series of our lives instead of staying around for the whole journey. The lure of reengaging with relationships unintentionally placed on read might take over, leaving our virtual engagements behind as cute placeholders that satisfied us for a moment.
I hope this is not where we’re headed. The bonds we’ve formed and the newfound care we have for one another online can remind us to treat each other with dignity and respect IRL. The only things that separate us are the malleable boundaries of time and space, easily modified by a few clicks, a little extra screen time, and a bit of preparation to open our hearts and minds to accepting one another. In doing so we are bound to one another for compassion's sake, not for the purpose of reaching a quantifiable endpoint. Our reduction to forming a URL sense of connectedness does not have to end there. Miss Rona’s massive lesson in togetherness can and should stay with us and inspire us to reach out to one another, build with one another, and care for one another IRL. These gentle yet powerful actions can build the foundation for new ways of thinking and organizing that better serve the people we hope to be when we come out on the other side.
About the Author
Xiomara is a Queens, NY bred life-long student and creative. She enjoys studying subjects that cross borders, time periods, languages, genres, and the arts. When she’s not doing mental gymnastics, she enjoys exploring and connecting with her local community.