Hello from the other side: How social distancing is closing the generation gap

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It might sound contradictory – and more than a little corny – but sometimes being torn apart is what brings communities closer than ever before. At risk of sounding like the speech at the end of an American sitcom (when you can’t buy pasta, binge-watching Netflix is the next best form of nourishment): it’s times like these that force people to find their common ground.

This is not to say that the lines between generations aren’t still defined. In fact, Covid-19 has built up even taller barriers between the young and aged. However, now that those at risk have become more visible, instead of shirking from the problems of strangers, we are finally taking responsibility for the vulnerable. The response to the NHS and GoodSam’s call for volunteers was so overwhelming that they have actually had to pause recruitment. The sheer volume of applications (there were 750,000 replies, three times the original quota) is telling of a young demographic keen to reach out to the elderly. Where the Alpha generation might once have brushed off the problems of pensioners or laughed off the myth of the “landline”, now they are picking up vital supplies and even picking up the phone.

This bridging of the gap works both ways. While the young have been embracing good old-fashioned conversation, the older generations have been embracing the golden age of video chat. The apps that come out on top during Coronavirus quarantine seem to be Zoom, Houseparty and Google Hangouts, which have fast become the new way to spend Friday night with friends. But on top of the group quizzes and quirky games, these apps are also proving a popular way to maintain relationships between relatives, and even the most tech-averse self-isolating grandparents are downloading Skype and Facetime in order to keep in contact with their families. Baby boomers are also hopping on board: topical BBC panel show Have I Got News For You has now released their first social distancing episode, the contestants all featuring their own screens like bemused vloggers.

That’s a term that millennial parents will have to get used to now that they are closer than ever with their children – and quite literally stuck with them. Being quarantined all day with your offspring calls for unlimited imagination and regular distractions, which fitness sensation Joe Wicks has been providing for the nation. His daily live-streamed P.E. With Joe sessions have been a hit, motivating mum, dad and kids to exercise together in a small space. This is just one example of how YouTube is inevitably profiting from the current climate, but it has also become a positive platform for creativity and collaboration: one British family have gone viral with their inventive interpretation of Les Misérables.  

When it comes down to it, it’s really all about empathy. While before we were categorised and filed into age-groups – sorted according to our mobility, our pastimes and our ambitions and targeted with ads, products and apps – now we are all stuck in the same stasis. We are all equally bored (has anyone else started crochet?), all equally lonely and all searching for comfort in a world without familiarity. Though our past experiences set us apart, our current experience brings us together, an entire nation in our pyjamas.

Rosamund Kelby

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