Shelter-in-place: day one. I felt exceedingly optimistic. I was free from the binding shackles of my three jobs and 18 credits, and I now had time to do things I was forced to neglect. During the week, I would be able to devote more time to studying for each of my classes, and I could enhance my understanding of the lecture material by engaging more in-depth. I could dedicate my weekends to self-care and relaxation. I finally had time to engage with my favorite hobbies like working out, creative writing, painting and playing with my baby Yorkies. The coronavirus might have been ravaging the United States, but I was safe inside my house. My mother had stocked up on food, emergency supplies and, most importantly, toilet paper. Life was going to be good.
I may have only been sheltered-in-place for 17 days, but it feels like at least a couple of years. Seventeen days with my two older sisters and middle-aged parents have been illuminating. Seventeen days living in constant fear of contracting the deadly virus from my father, who is a doctor, or God forbid transmitting the virus to a loved one, has been stressful. Seventeen days spending more than 18 hours per day in the same room and more than 23 hours per day in the same house has been boring.
With modern technology, there is almost an infinite number of ways to pass the time, but to paraphrase the cinematic masterpiece “Phineas and Ferb,” the problem for our generation is finding a good way to spend it. The first instinct for many is picking up our phones to pass the time. We’ve been texting our exes, organizing Zoom calls with our friends and shooting our shots in Instagram comment sections: But what have we really been doing to ourselves?
Our reliance on social media has increased tenfold since social distancing guidelines have been in effect according to Kimberley Lee from the Mental Health Association in Springfield, Mass. In her words, “(Social media) is an opportunity for us to stay connected, stay informed,” in order to transform social distancing into just physical distancing. From that perspective, social media has undoubtedly served as a positive force in our lives. It has reconnected us with friends, family and the greater world around us. However, as we all know, the overuse of social media can have some precarious effects on our mental health.
Social media websites like Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were crafted to function like drugs in order to turn users into addicts. Every like, view and re-share releases a bit of dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter responsible for increased energy and happiness levels. (It is also the neurotransmitter that cocaine releases). Thus, the emotional stimulation received creates a relationship for young people between using these social media sites and happiness, so we begin wanting more. We use these platforms more actively: keeping our Snapstreaks, tweeting our hot takes, bragging about our kids on Facebook — or at least that’s what my dad does — and posting dances on TikTok. Social media addiction is already a prevalent concern in our modern society, but quarantine is immeasurably exacerbating our addictions with potentially frightening consequences.
At the end of the day, each of us has been trying our absolute hardest to escape the unconscionable fear of death and overwhelming dread that seems to creep up on us more and more each day. We inevitably use social media as a distraction from our darkest thoughts, and that’s an understandable instinct. I’ve been doing it too. However, taking a step back to write this article has been therapeutic because it has forced me to analyze my own actions and contextualize them through the lens of this terrifying era in which we currently operate, so I encourage you to do the same. And no, I do not mean become an opinion columnist for The Daily (though you can apply to do so here).
Start a journal. Write down how you feel about quarantine or your sleep schedule or how you cannot stand Dan and Serena’s breakup at the end of season one of Gossip Girl because they were the perfect couple who restored your belief in love … or whatever else is occupying your headspace. This practice can help clear your mind and allow you to have a fresh perspective on life. At the end of quarantine — whenever that glorious day comes — you can look back on how this period has changed you, and you can carry the lessons of quarantine back into normal life.
There are theories that Generation Z will be nicknamed “the Corona generation.” Even though I’m partial to “Zoomers,” I do not object to that characterization — it’s better than being known for participation trophies like Millennials. It speaks volumes about the defining period that we are all now living through together. However, this characterization does prompt one central question: What will we learn from this?
Will we come out stronger, more grateful for our friends and family? Will we come out jaded, angered by the federal government’s slow response that cost thousands of lives? Will we come out unchanged because we spent the whole time laughing at Vanessa Hudgens’ memes and having our ears violated by the worst rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” courtesy of Wonder Woman?
Historians will be better able to answer these questions than I can and, truthfully, everyone will have their own experiences. But I believe we should take this unique opportunity to change our lives for the better. Bettering our lives only requires a few minutes a day, whether that’s anything from journaling to an abs workout. We have already let Auntie Rona take away our sense of security. We can’t let her take our futures as well.
Keith Johnstone can be reached at email@example.com.