COVID-19 and Entertainment

The Importance of Being Virtually Connected

[Note to Reader: For the purposes of this article, “live” is in person, and “real time” is streamed digitally in progress.]

Because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the vital importance of social distancing (a concept that went from zero to 100 in two weeks), a vast array of live interactions are now off-limits. It’s the only way to slow the inevitable progress of the virus as it burns its way through the population. But people are still alive and raring to go. They have to be entertained. Human beings need community. We literally diminish or die when we cannot be with each other.

Suddenly the Internet has become even more important to our playtime. Beyond video games, chat apps, social media and video streaming, practically every form of entertainment has gone almost totally virtual. For now, all live events are cancelled. Sports had already embraced a huge real time business model decades ago, but now that concept has spread.

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What does that look like? Here in our own region, there are club entertainers charging electronic admission fees to viewers who then watch real time performances streamed from the bars where patrons would normally see live shows. Clever local revelers have coined phrases like “Quarantini Party.” A large group of people join a group video chat, mix their favorite martinis, and socialize in real time while still being safe at home. That has been a creative alternative to bar hopping.

Friends are organizing group viewing parties for streaming content. Right now titles like “Contagion,” “Outbreak,” “The Walking Dead,” “A Quiet Place” and other pandemic narratives are particularly popular. That is helping to fill the need to go with friends to cinemas (which are also shuttered). Although many new titles have been delayed, there are other tent pole movies that have been released. This gives people an opportunity to simulate seeing a new flick with their favorite people.

As for theater outings, the Charlotte Ballet and the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra have followed examples in other cities where municipal arts organizations are putting their performances onto their websites free of charge. Carolina theater buffs need not miss out on their regularly scheduled events. Simply go to the sites in question, navigate to their most recent updates, and stream pre-recorded or real time performances.

Many people take group fitness classes, so fitness is also a socializing opportunity. All gyms, private fitness studios, pools, yoga studios and dance studios are closed. Rather than haul out their old copies of P90-X, many Charlotteans are following a strategy similar to theater attendees.

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Local yoga studios like Y2 at Cotswold and Khali in NoDa have pre-recorded and real time class options for their members to access via apps. Personal trainers had already been embracing virtual technology and apps, but for now their businesses all but depend on being able to have real time sessions as opposed to live. A physical fitness trainer in Charlotte had three clients in different locations in one day. A swim coach in Matthews drills for his kids and wife.

Virtual meetings for work have been becoming more common and familiar in recent years, but currently telecommuting is practically the only option for office workers. There are many programs and apps that allow video conferencing, several of which are native to cell phones (e.g. FaceTime on Apple phones and computers). One that is suddenly taking off is called Marco Polo. This app is a video messenger that allows people to record their conversations and pick them up at will. If your friend is talking real time, you can jump right in. Otherwise you can reply with your own video when it’s convenient. It’s rather like a combination of WhatsApp and FaceTime, in that you can message anyone in the world who is on the app, but you do it with video as opposed to text.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Nationally, many great symphony orchestras have held their performances in empty halls. They perform as planned, but the event is recorded and then placed for free on sites like NPR. The Philadelphia Philharmonic is an example of this. National and international bands and pop stars are following suit. The Dave Matthews Band will be performing in real time, and Erykah Badu is offering $1 e-tickets to see her sing real time in her bedroom. It’s an excellent way for performers to connect even more intimately with their audiences than they could live.

On the international scale, all these ideas can be found in major cities around the world. However, these group communal activities can also be spontaneous eruptions of solidarity and beauty. Two recent examples: First, in Sienna, Italy, a man decided to live stream himself singing at full voice into the night. He opened his window, began belting out the city’s historic anthem and within moments all the people in the city joined him. The people came together without being together. It was truly spectacular to watch. Another amazing example of how people are using their technology to unite happened last night in Great Britain. All across Wales, England and Scotland (at the pre-appointed time), hundreds of thousands of people (perhaps millions) took a minute to give their surgeons, doctors, nurses and administrators a long, grateful standing ovation. In this way, people have found that they can remain virtually connected, even when they seem virtually disconnected.

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