The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

social-distancing-phones
Credit: Ava Cruz

Amid the TikToks, Zoom birthday parties, Instagram #untiltomorrow challenges, and countless Facebook memes where we expose each other's worst quarantine habits, am I the only one who doubts the strength of our friendships?

It would be an understatement to say that our generation was the most prepared for this “social-distancing” quarantine. We grew up watching YouTube, we used the iconic Valencia filter and white borders on Instagram, and we even raised virtual pets on Webkinz. We became obsessed with our Snapchat streak count, and came to depend on Instagram likes. “Gen Z,” as we are called, are digital natives — incredibly comfortable and reliant on the internet for our interactions.

Yet the unread text count on my iMessage app on my phone has been at its highest count since I have ever seen it. Logically, I should feel assured. Each text means that someone missed me enough to shoot a quick text. And yet, I often find myself troubled about my friendships. The high text count still leaves me feeling lonely.

It’s ironic. Our generation, comfortable with, and dependent on, virtual interactions, finds our friendships at risk with the coronavirus’ mandate for physical distancing. What exactly is so damaging to our distant friendships when we have the strength of Zoom, FaceTime, or texting at our fingertips?

When our daily lives become uprooted to a life in quarantine, the weight that text messages or FaceTimes hold significantly shifts as well. Before coronavirus, text messages were generally reserved for quick exchanges: “What time for dinner?” “Where are you?” FaceTimes were set aside for quick check-in’s or at most, to tell an embarrassing or dramatic story that could not wait until the next time you met (which would have probably been within the next 12 hours). Longer calls were for catching up with high school friends, the small handful with whom you wanted to continue sharing memories.

Accordingly, the people we usually texted or FaceTimed were those we saw fairly frequently. The text messages, the inside jokes, silly selfies, or the dramatic stories over FaceTime were the superficial additives to my already close friendships. These virtual interactions complemented the in-person ones. But now, these modes of communication have become the bulk of my friendships — the text messages and FaceTimes are expected to deliver the same jest and bond as the in-person interactions.

Not only do these modes of communication hold greater weight now, but they also put greater expectations to the participants of them. The texts we send and calls we give now seem more intentional and deliberate. Having to substitute the real, in-person interactions with texts and calls forces us to say something interesting and worthwhile of that message. The flow of conversation found naturally in person does not translate well virtually.

I want to be profound and remember this quarantine period is an opportunity to ask who my real friends are. But that would be a generalization. What I can say is that while nothing can make up for the connections we had on campus, we need to continue giving ourselves to each other, as unfulfilling as it might be to real human interaction as we knew it. 

And at least we can come out of quarantine with the confidence to say that we invested in our friendships — to know that we tried. To know that we trusted and believed that our friendships were stronger and tougher than the coronavirus.

STEPHANIE YOON is a rising College sophomore from McLean, Virginia. Her email address is sawyung@sas.upenn.edu.

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.