There’s a children and young adults conference held annually in Brisbane that I’ve always hoped to attend, but for various reasons I’ve never managed it … until this year. The year of COVID. Where nothing is how it should be and people can go nowhere much physically but suddenly the world has opened up digitally like never before.
I have been able to listen to experts talk in their field, spend break times chatting to writers and been reinvigorated after feeling isolated and unmotivated to keep chipping away at my latest book. When you live in the country, it can be hard to build a network of like-minded people in any field; people tend to prefer face-to-face catch-ups, but COVID seems to have encouraged a shift.
Events that are usually exclusive and location-based are now finding new audiences because lockdown has made us all reconsider how we operate. The status quo has been blown to smithereens and we are necessarily inventing a new way of interacting.
How many Gen Xers tuned in to Powderfinger’s live, one-off reunion to relive and share their youth with their children? It certainly brightened my lockdown, although I realised I must be looking a lot older than I think.
The major art galleries of the world have come to the virtual party with tours around their collections. As part of home learning I “took” my children to Paris for the morning, wandering (albeit clunkily) around the Musee d’Orsay before we completed their art lesson. We even had croissants for morning tea.
Choirs are getting into the swing as well – with groups such as the Couch Choir, involving thousands of people from around the world, all singing together. Someone then cleverly puts it all together and creates a moving and strangely uplifting video – we are all in this together, it seems to say; find a way to carry on with things you love.
Others still are offering online courses, sharing skills in writing, art, computer skills, cooking – if you can think of it, you’ll most likely be able to take part in a class online somewhere around the world, building your skills and maybe finding a new passion or even a job.
Online video chat platforms are not just the modus operandi of Gen Z and Millennials, they have even been taken up by the older generations. Not that they’re always necessarily out of the technology loop, but as a whole they would have tended to eschew online for face-to-face in pre-COVID days. Now they Houseparty with their grandkids, take part in family or pub trivia nights and have Skype coffee dates with several friends at a time. Connections online are still less than perfect, depending on internet and devices, but they are connections nonetheless, and as depression and loneliness escalates, this must not be underestimated.
Places such as Headspace, which provide mental health support for youth, are experiencing much higher demand for their online services, such as one-on-one counselling or group chat forums. This is especially useful for young people in lockdown or rural locations, as they can still take part from their homes.
Even my technologically challenged husband, who struggles with cut and paste, has participated in several meetings where our small town has been investigating the options for becoming energy self-sufficient. Experts in the field spoke about the technological and financial options, and smaller break-out groups workshopped logistics and plans. Granted he had help logging onto Zoom, but that’s where the kids step in and help out, albeit rolling their eyes a little.
So as we try to find the positives in these dark times, this would be a big one. The world getting smaller certainly had a part to play in the lightning spread of this virus, but it has also offered solace to those of us fortunate enough to have the ability to connect online. Now we need to help those who don’t.
Nicola Philp is a freelance writer based in Apollo Bay.