Well it’s official. Across North America and most of Western Europe, the Christmas holidays are going to look very different this year. Since the second wave of the pandemic hit, we’ve been told to use virtual tools to connect with our loved ones for some holiday cheer. In fact, we may all find ourselves declining to participate in in-person holiday gatherings in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 prior to the release of a vaccine.
Unfortunately, however, we’ve already been doing almost everything digitally from our couches for months, and most of us are getting really tired of the whole thing, with good reason.
So do we write off the holidays altogether? Or do we try to find new ways to make things memorable? My research on digital literacy shows ways we can connect this holiday season, even as we stay physically apart.
Video for everything
The first few months of the pandemic was filled with Zoom fever. People were zooming work, happy hour, board game nights and other events as well. Then many people felt like they hit a wall. Zoom fatigue is real. And recent research suggests that all the efforts to connect using video chat platforms (Zoom, Skype, Teams and similar) might actually be wearing us down.
So while you consider how to spread holiday cheer, you want to find ways to step away from doing everything via video chat. Instead, learn from the ways digital natives use digital communication tools, and celebrate the season using a variety of platforms, as I’ll outline below.
Different platforms for different social groups
My research shows that young people tend to segment their use of social media platforms by their relationships on those platforms. For example, teenagers use Facebook to stay in touch with family and teachers, but use Snapchat with their friends. They socialize in massive multiplayer games.
This kind of engagement with digital technology makes sense for everyone. If you use Zoom for work, you may want to experiment with other technologies to connect with family and friends, For example, you could use an app like Rave, Airtime or Teleparty to watch movies synchronously with friends. Or you could visit friends and family virtually in a game like Animal Crossing, World of Warcraft, or Minecraft.
Get digitally creative
There are many other ways you can connect with loved ones to spread some holiday cheer. The sky, and your creativity, are the limit, but here are a few of my favorites:
Curate and share a music playlist: Research on online music sharing has shown that sharing music is deeply connected to friendship. You could curate a holiday music playlist on a streaming platform like Spotify, and share it with others this holiday season. This could bring you closer together as you play online games, order food or send holiday memes to your WhatsApp group.
Send text messages: A 2016 study from the University of Minnesota showed that text message are perceived as being warmer and more personal than email. Stay in contact with your loved ones throughout the holidays by sending frequent text messages. Sending emojis and gifs in your text messages will even further increase your emotional connection with your loved ones.
Host a virtual New Year’s cèilidh on YouTube: A Christmas cèilidh is a Scottish holiday tradition where family and friends get together and share songs, stories and dancing. You can create a virtual cèilidh with those you love by using a site like YouTube. Each participant can upload a video of themselves singing a song, telling a story, reciting a poem or playing a musical instrument. Then you can curate the videos into a playlist that the group can enjoy while eating their Christmas cookies. After all, research shows that YouTube is place where communities are created, as well as a place where videos are shared.
Tune in, turn on, then cop out
Holidays are stressful, and you will feel tempted to accept every virtual invitation, but you also need to spend some time disconnecting from digital devices. Some universities recommend that their doctoral students build in digital detox times in order to combat Zoom fatigue.
Sometimes you’ll really want to use a videoconferencing platform to recreate a holiday dinner or cocktail party, so make sure you combat Zoom fatigue by balancing your video chatting with the other ways to connect described above.
And while you step away from your computer, don’t forget old-fashioned ways to stay in touch. Send cards, pick up the phone or mail presents to your loved ones. Sometimes these are most impactful because we experience them so rarely in our hyper-connected world.