Staying in touch… without touching


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If social distancing is making you feel socially disconnected, technology may be the answer. Here are five ways to stay in touch when face-to-face conversations aren’t possible:

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/03/2020 (1163 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If social distancing is making you feel socially disconnected, technology may be the answer. Here are five ways to stay in touch when face-to-face conversations aren’t possible:

For straightforward video chatting: Zoom

Available on desktop, tablet and mobile devices; free to sign up

Zoom is a pretty serious video-conferencing system that allows users to host meetings, conduct webinars and collaborate on projects. While the higher-level paid plans are ideal for businesses and educators, the basic free plan is a solid option for video chatting with family and friends.

Once you sign up and download the desktop software or mobile app, you can invite 100 of your closest friends via email to join a meeting. Seriously, according to Zoom’s website the free plan allows for 100 participants per meeting — virtual family reunion, anyone?

Participants don’t need an account to join a meeting, but meetings of more than three people have a 40-minute time limit on the free plan. Another downside is that the interface is slightly more complicated than other video-conferencing platforms, but there are literally hundreds of YouTube tutorials on how to use Zoom if you get stuck.


For fun and games: Houseparty

Available on desktop, tablet and mobile devices; free to download

Currently the top-rated social-networking app on the App Store, Houseparty is one part video chat and one part virtual gaming. You can chat with up to eight people at a time and play trivia, drawing and word-association games with each other in the app. It’s a nice substitute for those missing out on real-life board-game nights (which should be everyone right now).

After downloading the app or desktop version you’ll be asked to sync your contacts via your phonebook or Snapchat account. Alternatively, you can send an invite link directly to your contacts.

Whenever you open Houseparty, your contacts will get a notification that you’re online (or “in the house”) and can strike up a video chat with you. Users can also send recorded video and text messages to each other.


For call-and-response videos: Marco Polo

Available on tablets and mobile devices; free to download

Marco Polo is a private communication app that allows you to record and send videos to friends and loved ones. There’s no live-chat option, so your contacts can watch and respond to your videos at their leisure. It’s a lot like texting, but with video messages, which makes it feel more personal.

The app is only available on mobile and you can only add contacts that are already in your phone or by sharing an invite link. Users can chat one-on-one or create groups with multiple contacts.

Unlike other social media platforms, Marco Polo videos don’t disappear after 24-hours. As with to other platforms, you can apply filters to your videos and respond to messages with a (very) limited number of emojis.


For international conversations: WhatsApp

Available on desktop, tablet and mobile devices; free to download

Petr David Josek / The Associated Press Files If you’re self-isolating or quarantined at home, you can still get virtual face time with family, friends and co-workers.

WhatsApp has more than two billion users worldwide, making it the most popular messaging app on the market.

The Facebook-owned platform has text, phone and video message features that work through your internet connection, instead of your data plan. This means you connect with family and friends abroad free, as long as both of you are connected to Wi-Fi.

You can make video calls with anyone in your phone contacts within the app, but group calls are limited to just three people on mobile. The desktop version unfortunately doesn’t support video or voice calls at the moment.


For chatting while watching: Netflix Party

Available on desktop; free download

What'sApp What'sApp is the world's most popular messaging app; it's free and it works via Wi-Fi.

If you’re a fan of talking during movies or chatting with friends while watching your favourite TV show, you might enjoy Netflix Party. It’s a free Chrome extension that allows users to participate in remote Netflix viewing parties.

To use, you need to install the extension, start watching something on Netflix and create a party by clicking on the red NP icon on your browser. A chat window will pop up within the window you’re watching on and you can ask others to join by sharing the party’s web address.

Netflix Party is more of a novelty than an effective communication tool, as you need to be a Chrome user to access it and you need to be watching on a device that allows you to type, like a laptop.

Twitter: @evawasney

Netflix Party Netflix Party allows viewers to chat with friends who are watching the same show or movie.
Eva Wasney

Eva Wasney
Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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