With so many of us locked down, it is no surprise that 24% of Britons say they feel more lonely than usual. Unable to leave our homes, trapped in the confinement of our living rooms, bedrooms and – now – parks, the country is turning to technology to keep safe, socially connected, and entertained. Platforms are being used in creative and innovative ways to bring people together.

Technology is so often portrayed as the root cause of disconnection in society, but this week at MTM, we look at the powerful use of technology to bring people together.

It’s good to talk

Counselling is often considered a facetime profession. However, with many working from home, counselling services are happening over video conferencing. Although there are benefits to speaking to a councillor in person, including a safe space to engage and the reassurance of eye contact and touch, remote therapy removes some of the barriers that prevent people seeking help, such as time, cost, availability, and stigma.

TalkSpace, a digital service where users are assigned a counsellor, has seen a 25% increase in just over a month. Crisis Text Line also saw a 116% increase in the volume of messages received in under a week during the start of lockdown. Some wellbeing apps are offering free subscriptions to help people through this turbulent time, with others providing free access to NHS staff, including Headspace, Unmind and Daylight. My Possible Self, an app funded by the NHS that uses material that has scientifically been proven to alleviate depression, stress and anxiety, is offering its service free of charge to all who need it.

Social media doing what it should

The weekly collective round of applause for our carers is experienced in person, yet takes on a new life online. The highlights of this weekly touchpoint are put on social media – whether Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp – enabling this moment of national gratitude to be relived, etched into our shared experience, and sense of community.

Though one social media platform has risen above the others: TikTok. The video sharing platform, where users create short videos to music – featuring a combination of dancing, dogs, and disco queens – has become the “social media sensation of lockdown”, surpassing Facebook and WhatsApp as the world’s most downloaded non-gaming app. It is, as one TikToker with 380,000 followers from Cornwall states, “your main way of reaching out”. Social media was designed to bring people together and, when none of us can be together physically, it is filling this void.

Virtual insanity

There are new mediums for socially connecting too. AltspaceVR is a social media platform providing meeting spaces in virtual reality (VR) where you can have conversations, watch videos, and play games. You can have a drink on a (virtual) Brooklyn rooftop, attend talks on everything from philosophy to new technology, and even watch live stand-up comedy. It is a truly immersive experience.

In addition, Space Popular, an architecture studio pioneering the use of VR, has created its own social VR platform. Fredrik Hellberg, from its London studio, commented “it’s basically like social media but you wear a headset and you have an avatar and you’re in the world together with other actual real human beings… there is no mission other than being together”. Another architect, Sarah Izod, said her clients were now asking her to consider building virtual experiences to replace cancelled real-world events – ranging from a Burning Man event online to virtual art galleries.

Tech connection

The pandemic might be constricting our physical liberties and compounding isolation, but it is opening new digital frontiers, bringing people together in new and interesting ways, and providing antidotes to increasing loneliness and social disconnection. Technology and social media platforms are stepping up in lockdown.