In the current environment when “social distancing” is the new norm, we are missing so many elements in our lives, family, friends, work colleagues, our whole network. It would be a different world if we were coping with this pandemic without the Internet.
There are several free apps to download that will help to connect us with those we need the most right now. From colleagues on conference calls to playing monopoly with a friend online, attending a webinar, having a virtual dinner party or having five o’clock cocktails with your college friends, it’s all possible thanks to apps for every possibility.
For me, it’s the three small faces of grandchildren, so I organize a Zoom gathering and invite their parents at a certain time so we can all chat. Everyone’s face is on the screen as the free version gives you 40 minutes. For small fry with the attention of a hummingbird, about 5 minutes and they are done. More recently I have gotten the hang of organizing simple creative activities to do with them to keep them on longer.
Connecting with larger groups such as a book club, small group of friends and even large choirs are all possible. Recently I connected with 9 friends all at the same time on zoom (PHOTO). It was slightly chaotic but with an appointed moderator and focussed items to discuss, it was streamlined. It made such a positive difference to a day that could have gone in a different direction.
Most of these apps are free, but they use data quickly. So, if you rely on cellular service to connect to the internet, but don’t have a plan on your smartphone or tablet for unlimited data, you may rack up hefty overage fees. I tend to use my laptop so many faces can be seen at once.
Two popular platforms include Zoom (www.zoom.com) and Skype (www.skype.com). Zoom is typically used by schools and businesses because the app can host up to 1,000 people in a video meeting. The app is free with limitations. For example, Zoom is free for calls between two people for 24 hours, and free for up to 100 people for 40 minutes; but there are charges to add extra people or minutes. Some restrictions and fees are being suspended during the coronavirus crisis. Skype can host up to 50 people at a time, and you can use it with or without video.
Google Duo. This app (duo.google.com) is a video conferencing platform. You can make video calls to just one person or with up to eight people. You can also leave video messages for people you call — a nice feature that others can play again and again if they’re missing you.
WhatsApp (www.whatsapp.com). This popular platform allows you to send text messages and make phone calls (with or without video). The app also enables you to send and receive videos, documents, and voice messages.
Snapchat (www.snapchat.com) offers a way to send fun messages and short videos. The app features filters that augment images by adding silly hats, eyes, noses, voices, and stickers. You can take a number of “snaps” and send them in chronological order for a “story” that you share with others. Another feature: messages are automatically deleted after a brief time. You can also use Snapchat to send standard text messages and make video phone calls.
FaceTime (www.apple.com) is an app that comes preloaded onto any Apple device, including smartphones, desktop computers, and tablets. The app allows you to call people around the world — just one person or as many as 32 people at a time (although you might not see them all at once). If you don’t have an internet connection, this app also works on cellular connections alone. You’ll need your contacts’ phone numbers to contact them. Note: this only works with other Apple users.
Note: Android phones also come with built-in apps that enable video calls, although the particular app can vary by phone. Changing from an audio-only call to a video call, no matter which type of Android phone you have, is typically a matter of pressing the video icon on your keypad.
Netflix Party (www.netflixparty.com) is an extension of Google Chrome that encourages watching movies and TV shows together, even when you’re far apart. The app allows you to watch a program on the Netflix video streaming service at the exact same time as other users, and chat about it in real time. Works great with kids and teenagers.