The pitfalls of being Too Online during the coronavirus

It’s 2020: Nearly everyone is online in some form. But not everyone is capital-O Online — you know, the folks who spend all day scrolling. 

For those who are always online, the coronavirus crisis has proven to be a particularly strange time. Folks who don’t spend their days on the internet just aren’t as engrossed in it. They don’t see every viral tweet thread. They don’t read live-blogs of each terrifying crisis. They probably don’t understand just how dangerous the coronavirus is. How bad the disease COVID-19 can spread. 

Everyone who is truly online — myself included — we see it all. And it can result in ramped-up levels of anxiety. 

“Normally, I love being the person who’s in the know,” said Rachel, a 30-year-old PR professional based in San Francisco, in a phone conversation. “This time around, it’s making me more of a paranoid person than I normally am.” 

Rachel, who asked to be identified by her first name only, said her job requires her to be online and up-to-date with news, but nowadays that’s ramping up her anxiety both personally and professionally. 

A number of especially online people described the difficulty of parsing through an overwhelming amount of information about coronavirus — some of which might not be totally trustworthy. 

“Something that shouldn’t be political is,” Rachel said, mentioning that President Donald Trump seems to think it isn’t a big deal. “I’m not looking to have a political opinion on this.”

Diyora Shadijanova, a 24-year-old freelance journalist based in London, said over Twitter DMs that she spends some 80 percent of her day on devices. Normally, being online serves as escapism, she said, but as more people are throwing their anxieties onto the internet, it has begun to feel different. 

“It’s almost like these online spaces are becoming very anxiety inducing and small because everyone is freaking the hell out — it’s understandable but it also feels quite unproductive,” Shadijanova wrote. 

There are tools and tips for easing coronavirus-related anxiety — Mashable has a list here that I’ve found useful. But one frequent tip is to actually cut back on social media and constant update-checking. But for online people, that can be a huge lifestyle change. Think of Twitter users, especially. Eighty percent of tweets come from 10 percent of its users — as one of those extremely active tweeters, I can tell you that cutting down isn’t so simple (especially since my job involves being online). 

And since the coronavirus has just barely begun to affect Americans’ lives, there’s a weird disconnect for truly online folks who know what’s likely to come. Some people are hardly registering the virus as a problem, while online folks are already making memes about it

Chris Gosling — a 28-year-old, NYC-based, graphic designer and frequent tweeter — described going out to a bar and avoiding a handshake, only for that person to laugh at the idea of getting the coronavirus. Gosling — who, full disclosure, I know from childhood — described a real disconnect between workers who sit at a computer all day looking at this stuff versus those who don’t. 

“It will be interesting to see if the constant barrage of corona tweets is protecting us or just making us paranoid goofballs,” he wrote over DM. 

Mac Smith, a communications director for an insurance company, works from home out of Fredericksburg, Virginia. Working in comms means he has to be really informed. He, too, described struggling with how to approach the wealth of knowledge he has been bombarded with on coronavirus, for better or worse. 

Smith, 44, plays golf every Saturday morning.

“My buddies were throwing out incorrect information and I was like, ‘Do I correct them?'” he said in a phone call. “And if I do correct them with wrong information, that just raises doubt in the things I say.”

He called it an “ethical dilemma” of sorts — to correct or not to correct. 

Smith, like others I talked with, described being “overloaded” with info. But not everyone felt that was a totally bad thing. 

Tallie Gabriel, a 25-year-old freelance writer and social strategist in NYC, obviously spends a lot of time online for her career. A self-described anxious person, she’s actually found being online has helped soothe her during the coronavirus outbreak.

“It’s funny because, on the one hand, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the panic,” she said over the phone. “But then like we’re all in this together in a specific way.” 

She later added: “It’s almost like this thing like, ‘Oh, everyone is on that page now.'” 

It’s a coping through community, of sorts.

Anna, a 32-year-old social media manager in Nottingham, England, said reading quality information online has helped keep her deal with the outbreak. 

“Honestly, I think it helps a bit with the panic. I’ve seen a lot of articles shared about a measured response and not believing all the conspiracy nonsense,” she wrote over Twitter DMs. “That said, I’m pretty convinced that if the infections carry on the way they are, we’ll be in lockdown like Italy at some point, so my husband is out right now buying nappies and formula for our baby, so maybe it’s not been as positive as I think.” 

 

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