Beyond Facebook – Socialising in Isolation

Being on your own can be a grind. Humans are social creatures – we just aren’t made for extended periods of solitude. So what do you do if you’re self-isolating due to the coronavirus pandemic, and have to stay in for a fortnight with only the TV and your computer for company?

When you get sick of those inane TV shows, and have run out of DVDs to watch, there’s another option. Socialise online, using your Mac, PC and mobile gear.

Video Phone Calls

Science fiction promised video phones were just around the corner for years, but today they’re most definitely with us. If you use Apple gear, there’s FaceTime, and anyone with a computer, tablet or smartphone can use Microsoft’s Skype service. Naturally, you can only call people who have access to the Internet themselves, but being able to see the person you’re taking to is a great way to stave off the loneliness that comes with self isolation.

Remember, both Skype and FaceTime let you call more than one person at once, so you can have a long-distance family get-together, or crack open a few cans with the folks you usually meet at the pub, all without leaving the house.

Online Forums

These days there are all sorts of online forums for all sorts of subjects, and some of them are really good. Just google ‘knitting forum’, ‘gardening forum’, ‘science forum’ or just about anything else forum, and you’re bound to find a few to interest you. Take a look at a few of them, find one you like and join. You can then chat about your favourite subjects with other enthusiasts from all over the world.

An Internet forum needs no special software; you simply use your web browser, on any device that can connect to the worldwide web. Even so, there are apps such as Tapatalk and Topic’it that make it easier to use Internet forums on mobile devices.

Internet Relay Chat

Internet Relay Chat (or IRC for short) isn’t as popular as it once was, but there’s still a solid community of chatters out there waiting to be found. To join an IRC chatroom (as they’re called), you need an app such as Colloquy (Mac) mIRC (Windows) or IRCCloud (mobile devices). You then need to find a chat server, of which there are plenty. After doing so, you’re presented with a list of channels on all sorts of subjects, along with the number of people chatting on each channel.

Getting online with an IRC client and learning all the intricacies of how to use it can be a bind, and finding a chatroom that’s actually worth visiting is no easy task either. But the rewards are there, and let’s face it; you’ve plenty of time on your hands. If you find a really good chatroom, you can make online friendships that last a lifetime.

Social Apps and Sites

There’s more to social networking apps and sites than just Facebook. For young adults, there’s FaceParty, which is great for meeting new people. WhatsApp is good if you know enough folks who also use it, and Instagram is great for sharing photos and videos. There’s a wealth of apps designed to help you find and chat to people located near you, like SKOUT, MeetMe, Grindr, Badoo and more.

Twitter lets you post short messages to the world and read those sent by other people, and Snapchat lets you explore the news and check out live stories as well as sending and receiving photos. For musicians and music fans there’s Myspace (yes, it still exists) and ReverbNation, for activists, there’s Care2 and for mothers and mothers-to-be, CafeMom.

This list barely scratches the surface of what’s available, so while you’re stuck at home, why not explore the world of social media sites?

Newsgroups

Another online service that’s not as popular as it used to be is Usenet. First introduced in 1980, in the very early days of the Internet, the Usenet service lets you access newsgroups, which function like online bulletin boards. Find a newsgroup on a subject that interests you, and you can read and reply to messages sent by others and post messages of your own.

To access Usenet newsgroups, you need two things; a newsgroup client (see https://bit.ly/33nCZgK for a list of available apps), and access to a news server. In the past, Internet service providers used to carry news servers, but as Usenet has been in steady decline since its peak in the mid-Nineties, not all of them do any more. If your own ISP lacks a news server, you can still access Usenet by accessing a free public server or subscribing to a third party service such as Astraweb.

Video Games

These days, a lot of video games have a social element. While sat in front of your computer, console or mobile device, you can chat with other gamers using a headset or by typing messages. First-person shooters often include a multiplayer element, whereby you can play with – and talk to – your gaming buddies. If you’ve never played one before, Code of War is free on the Mac and PC. Give it a go.

The awesome driving and soccer hybrid (yes, seriously) Rocket League is available on Windows and consoles, and supports cross-platform party chat. The ever-popular Minecraft is great for chatting to fellow gamers. Naturally, massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) rely on co-operative play and social interaction, though they can take up a lot of your free time. Look out for World of Warcraft, The Elder Scrolls Online, Final Fantasy XIV and Guild Wars 2. And for a novel take on online virtual environments, there’s Second Life, a ‘game’ with no set objectives or manufactured conflict; you just log on and make your way in the online world.

Online Dangers

While socialising online can be fun, there are also significant hazards to watch out for. Online communication brings out the worst in some people, allowing them to behave in ways they would never dare to do while meeting face to face. On newsgroups, IRC chat servers and forums, disruptive posters are common, though the better forums are moderated to keep personal attacks and offensive behaviour to a minimum.

Not everyone is who they seem online; watch out for ‘catfishing’, someone pretending to be something they’re not. That 23-year-old lifeguard from California who wants your bank account details could well be a 54-year-old con man from Basingstoke. A person who invites you to look at his or (more usually) her personal website early in the conversation is probably trying to drive traffic to a pornographic site, and needless to say, anyone who asks for your password, home address, bank details or personal pictures should be blocked and ignored.

With a few sensible precautions, you can avoid the pitfalls and dangers of socialising online, and find it a rewarding and enjoyable experience.

Ian Osborne

Ian has worked on computer and video games magazines since the legendary Crash and Zzap! 64 in the early Nineties, so he’s seen many changes over the years (including an expanding waistline and receding hairline). A lifelong Mac user, he bought his first Mac in the year 2000. It’s a testament to the resilience of the Mac that his mother is still using that computer to this very day.

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