This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.
Like for many of you, my life has become detached from the physical world. I’m having drinks with buddies on Zoom, chatting with my boss on Google Hangouts and texting up a storm with my dad and sister.
Maybe you are crushing this life lived through screens. I am not.
I need to see real people! I need to talk out loud — to people, not to my slowly dying houseplants.
I needed professional help for this. Professional video gamer help.
I called — on Zoom, of course — Thomas Biery, a 24-year-old who works in marketing and has a second life streaming video games to his followers.
While this extremely online life is new to me, Thomas has been living it for years. He assured me that we can sustain meaningful connections over broadband — and, forced into the virtual world, we might even become a more honest version of ourselves.
Thomas goes by “strawbiery” on the Twitch streaming site, where he plays video games or watches odd cartoons, while a webcam catches everything he does. Participants follow along live and chime in with text messages. (There’s more below about video games for quarantine life.)
Thomas and his fans share photos of their pets in online chat rooms. They tease him for bad jokes and mail him masks featuring Jar Jar Binks, the “Star Wars” character that people love to hate. (The origins of this prank were complicated.) These are vibrant connections, no matter that they’re virtual.
The other heartening message from Thomas is that you have the freedom to be a different you online, if you want.
Thomas said he’s an introvert, and it’s hard for him to feel comfortable in real life.
“It’s the total opposite when I’m streaming,” he said. “It’s so easy for me to just forget that the camera is there, to forget that I’m even broadcasting myself. There is something in your brain that has to turn off and be comfortable in the space you’re in.”
You can feel Thomas’s ease in his unabashedly unvarnished Twitch streams. He munches on snacks and interrupts what he’s doing to talk to his girlfriend. He occasionally blurts out lines from “SpongeBob” cartoons.
His advice for our temporarily hermit lives is to be unpolished. Don’t try to hide the chaos and the weirdness.
“I think it is a very necessary way to cope with what is a very difficult situation,” he said.
I’m with Thomas. I resolve to be comfortable in the very strange space I’m in. Let’s embrace the mess — to a point. Your co-workers don’t need to see your piles of dirty laundry.
We can still be human — and maybe more humane — if we connect through webcams for awhile. I can do this. Your kids can do this. Joe Biden can probably even do this. We will be OK.
If a friend forwarded this newsletter to you, please sign up here.
Your moment of joy: distractions!
I told Thomas that I’m not a video game person. At all. My gaming pretty much stopped with Brick Breaker for the Blackberry.
But being cooped up inside, people are flocking to Twitch and other spots to play games or interact. It was fun for me to watch Bob Ross videos on Twitch, and drop in on a bare-bones Finnish talk show. (I don’t speak Finnish.)
For the uninitiated like me, The New York Times’s Seth Schiesel has published a guide for video game novices. There are other ideas for games to play with your kids, and another guide for more experienced types who are bored with whatever they’ve been mashing on. One of these games is called I Am Bread. The mission is to…toast bread.
The Wirecutter, a product recommendation site owned by The Times, has suggestions for virtual reality goggles to play video games and more. And Amazon, the company behind Twitch, also has big plans for other types of games.
Please join us
I’ll be chatting live Monday on Twitter with Kara Swisher, a Times contributing opinion writer and a veteran technology journalist. We’re going to talk about what big technology companies (like Amazon and Google) are doing in this pandemic for us, their employees and communities. We’ll also discuss if our relationship with technology and tech companies is permanently changing.
Trust me, you need a little Kara in your life. You can watch live on my Twitter account (@ShiraOvide) on Monday, April 6, at 3 p.m. Eastern time. Send your questions about big tech to email@example.com. Please put “Kara talk” in the subject line.
Before we go …
How an unproven coronavirus treatment from a “simple country doctor” reached the mainstream: It was “a jumble of facts, falsehoods and viral rumors patched together from Twitter threads and shards of online news, amplified by armchair experts and professional partisans and pumped through the warp-speed accelerator of social media.” Read more from my colleagues, Kevin Roose and Matthew Rosenberg.
Yes, more boring things online, please! Challenging friends to share badly drawn virtual carrots, as a writer for The Goods by Vox described, is exactly the kind of banal activity that Kevin encouraged for a healthier internet. The more people share good stuff online, even the silly things, the more it drowns out the shouting and snark.
“He’s not smart or articulate.” That’s how Amazon’s top lawyer described how to discredit a warehouse worker who protested the company’s health protection measures, according to a company memo reviewed by Vice News. Amazon said it was doing all it can to protect employees working during a pandemic
Not everyone can afford to stay home: An analysis of smartphone location data by my colleagues shows people in wealthier neighborhoods in the United States have reduced their movements far more than those in the poorest areas.
Hugs to this
“The Wisteria wiggles like it’s excited for something.” Here’s a Twitter thread started by Anil Dash, a tech executive, about what people are glimpsing outside their windows.
Tell us what celebrity video or virtual fitness class is making you happy in unsettled times. Please share your finds with us at firstname.lastname@example.org (and put “hugs” in the subject line). We may feature some in the newsletter.