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Being apart from the people you love and enjoy can suck. Even without the current need for preemptive social distancing, sometimes ordinary life can keep you away from your social circle. So what can you do to mitigate the distance? Try eating together — online, we mean.
One of the ways we keep bonds strong with our friends and relatives is to eat together. Obviously doing that in person is out of the question at the moment, given we’re all supposed to shelter in place. However, if you’re willing to experiment, you can use video chatting to have virtual dinners with friends and relatives. Given the glut of video chat apps and software out there, we all have an embarrassment of riches in terms of ways to catch up with each other.
It might sound awkward at first, but if you have a tablet or phone you can prop in front of your table setting, or if you can eat in front of a computer with a webcam, you may eventually find it’s not much different from an actual group dinner or date. And you and your companions won’t be online in giving it a try: according to Vice, Japanese women have coined the term “on-nomi” for online drinking, essentially having virtual happy hours together, which sounds as reasonable a way to get through this outbreak as any.
If you’re not used to video chatting, dinner could even be an easier thing to do than just “hanging out,” as you’ll have something to do with your hands and you won’t always need to fill silences. If you really want the call to last, you can even cook the meal together before you eat it.
Which video chat service you choose is really dependent on your preferences. Personally, I prefer either FaceTime if I’m on my phone, and Skype when I’m on my desktop PC. All the apps I’ve seen have ridiculously high participant limits, meaning the average dinner party shouldn’t strain them overmuch. FaceTime, for example, allows up to 32 participants: I’m not sure I’m on first-name basis with that many people. Skype has been around long enough that it’s an easy program to hop onto and off of without having to “learn” too much.
The inventors of “on-nomi” are using Zoom, a video conference software. I chafe at the free tier’s 40-min limit on group calls, but 1-on-1 calls are unlimited, making it ideal for dinner dates. A good free service that everyone’s likely to have access to already is Facebook Messenger‘s video chat, which allows you to see up to six people in a video call (the upper limit is 50 people in a video call).
Another good option is HouseParty. This is the app that allows you to start video chats with multiple people — the name sort of gives it away. You just let your friends know you’re available to chat, and you can join each other on a dinner party together.
Whichever app you choose, eating dinner together can go a long way towards making you feel less lonely — even if everyone’s looking at each other via cameras and screens.