Social distancing means bringing a lot of strangers into your house
Because we are currently living through a once-in-a-generation crisis, I set my alarm clock an extra 30 minutes early this morning to rearrange my furniture. I'll be the first to extol the therapeutic practice of moving a couch from one side of the room to the other — trust me, there are few problems that can't be solved by rearranging your living room — but that was not, strictly speaking, my predawn objective. I needed to clear space in my cluttered 700-square foot New York City apartment to roll out my yoga mat.
I also needed to vacuum, something I realized only after shoving my coffee table to the front of the room, where it was to become a makeshift laptop stand. But that'd have to wait; I was already moments away from inviting my fitness instructor and classmates into my apartment for the first time. Not literally — I'm not selfish or delusional, and won't risk coming into contact with other people right now — but virtually. In order to flatten the curve of the coronavirus outbreak, many fitness studios, including my own, moved their classes online over the weekend (and as of Monday night, all gyms in my city were ordered to close, too).
While YouTube yoga and video fitness services like Peloton have long been a thing, what's different about the current coronavirus outbreak is that neighborhood studios are turning to simple services like Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangouts to maintain the neighborly atmosphere of their classes. What that means is, if you elect to, everyone can see you while you're practicing in your living room. Formerly private spaces — spaces that maybe ought to stay private, judging by my cat-dandered carpet and the smattering of empty coffee cups I forgot to clear out of the background before signing in — are becoming, increasingly, de facto public spaces.
— Ricardo Motti (@RMotti) March 16, 2020
Inviting strangers virtually into my apartment — and in turn, getting a glimpse of theirs — has been both awkward and charming. My cats, fascinated with the movement of people on my laptop, goggled at the screen; at the end of class, we all hoisted our pets in front of the cameras so they could "meet" each other. Still, there is something slightly invasive about discovering how a woman who I've previously only ever seen out of the corner of my eye during standing twists decorates her apartment. And if huffing through sphinx push-ups didn't make me feel self-conscious enough while in a studio, occasionally glancing up at the grainy laptop screen above me to see the bodies of my classmates bobbing in and out of inexpertly-positioned screens almost made me feel like I was spying on them through a Ring or watching a scene in Unfollowed.
Being a digital native has made this transition comparatively easy for me, though. A hyper-digitized way of living comes less intuitively to boomers, who might not take to technology like Skype with the same ease (just try Facetiming a parent and you'll see what I mean). While millennials have sprung to adapt to using technology to facilitate everything from exercise to working from home to even social hangouts like birthday parties in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, it's a less instinctive transition for people who have spent decades primarily centering their social lives around golf or after-work happy hours.
For millennials and especially Gen Z, though, opening up our living rooms to anyone who happens to be on a given livestream at a particular time is almost natural — watching other people do the same is a large part of our culture, be it on Twitch or TikTok. Still, the voyeurism of, say, glimpsing unvacuumed carpet is different than the kind of performative intimacy that was more common on social media before the pandemic. Vloggers broadcast from low-budget sets in home offices; Instagram influencers tinker to get the right lighting and angles. Ordinary people who just want to chaturanga their way through a health crisis are less picky about the details; bodies are out of frame, angles are unflattering, partners and roommates wander through the background in their underwear to get a bowl of cereal from the kitchen.
I'm now on day four of not interacting with any humans in real life aside from my boyfriend and the cashier at my grocery store, so I'm grateful for the sense of normalcy my classes have brought, even if it meant piping strangers into a living room that even my step-father hasn't seen in person (and in turn, being piped into their bedrooms and living rooms). It's also an essential way to continue to support businesses in our communities as they struggle to weather the downturn caused by mandatory closings — on Monday, the president even instructed against gatherings of more than 10 people to slow the spread of disease. As a result, the expansion of public spaces into private ones is bound to keep growing as the weeks wear on, too. Students are already using programs like Zoom to attend classes from their family dining tables. With telemedicine widely available, your bathroom can become a doctor's office. My quiet hallway has become my makeshift meeting room, should the need to talk with a colleague face-to-face arise.
And, even if it means potentially forgetting to move my overflowing laundry hamper out of the background, I hope it does. We're in this for the long haul now, and loneliness can be dangerous too. If we can't go to our offices and our coffee shops, our gyms and our happy hours, then bringing them into our homes — strangers and all — is the next best thing.
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