• Australians can now be fined or even jailed if they don't comply with self-isolation provisions, designed to try and slow the spread of the coronavirus. (Getty Images/10'000 Hours)
I stared at my screen time. The numbers were indicting. Nine hours. Had it really been that long?
Fatima Malik

26 Mar 2020 - 8:05 AM  UPDATED 27 Mar 2020 - 9:32 AM

I stared at my screen time. The numbers were indicting.

Nine hours.

Had it really been that long?

In the 2013 film Her  - an introverted, depressed man living in the not-too distant future develops a relationship and eventually falls in love with an artificial intelligence programme named Samantha.

I thought of the movie on my third day of self-isolation when, having been deprived of any human contact, I said goodnight to my Google home assistant.

I was in self-isolation, following government guidelines, after my return to Australia from overseas travel.

I longed for an exchange with my barista, real life conversations with my friends and the quiet chatter of my colleagues.

As countries begin to recognise the importance of social distance to ‘flatten the curve’ on coronavirus transmission, we are being asked to lean into technology to stay together apart.

During self-isolation, my phone is my lifeline.  

FaceTime chats with friends and family, the exchange of memes and seeing how others are coping with isolation on social media are crucial to maintaining my wellbeing and sense of connection with the outside world.  I feel a sense of community as I see everyone from my friends, family and celebrities hunkered down at home cooking, baking, reading and watching shows.  

But I feel also tired, bleary-eyed and exhausted by my internet use, many hours which are spent mindlessly browsing and constantly refreshing the news.

As Lauren Collins wrote in the New Yorker ‘isn’t social distancing an acceleration of what was already happening to many people in many places, by choice, before it was inflicted by fiat, everyone in their comfortable cells of capitalist convenience, fortified by everything they could ever wish for (or, more accurately, afford)?’. In the case of technology, this includes a descent into an app and screen dominated reality, devoid of any meaningful contact with others.

Given that a return to ‘normal life’ may take time, it is important to consider how we can embrace technology to remain connected to each other but also not overdose on the internet. We need to maintain a healthy relationship with it as we navigate our separate togetherness.

For me, the best way to use technology while social distancing involves using it in a way that replicates some of the interactions that I would have in real life. A friend and I set up a FaceTime dinner date. I get asked to join an online Yoga session.  My colleagues set up a morning video conference which replicates our usual morning coffee run.

Using technology in this way actually does make me feel together apart.

It gives me hope that we can return from this period of suspended animation with a greater sense of community and connection.  Perhaps arresting the future trends we are moving towards, to understand the vital importance of connection, care and human contact, and mastering our phones and technology to help us create more of that, and not less.   

Fatima Malik is a lawyer and a writer. You can follow Fatima on Instagram here.

People who have recently travelled from overseas or have been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case and experienced symptoms within 14 days are advised to be tested.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor, don’t visit, or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

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