Surviving COVID-19 with Video Chat, Netflix and Amazon Prime

Northern Virginia reader Allen Barringer responded to my request yesterday for readers to describe how they are coping with COVID-19. He started writing this piece as a comment, but it became so comprehensive that we decided to publish it as a full-fledged post. — JABby Allen Barringer

We live in a surreal moment: On the one hand our health care system’s response to this pandemic is vintage 1918; on the other, we live in the age of the internet. We can do amazing things on-line, both to entertain ourselves and to socialize with friends.

The dichotomy has brought to the fore the generational divides between those who grew up with on-line technology, those who are familiar with what it can deliver but can DIY only primitively, and those who are overwhelmed by it. The sine qua non, of course, is  a decently fast internet service.

We attend a church that has put worship services on-line and is experimenting with the use of Zoom for just about everything meeting-wise. A hard-core group is committed to overcoming these barriers to keep the sense of community going. Fortunately, that includes a majority of the vestry.

The dilemma is everyone else: It is difficult to get people thinking creatively “outside the box” when so much about daily life has changed and individual circumstances differ so greatly. It’s difficult to reach out to the isolated without on-line tools, or to help them overcome their technophobia without at
least a home visit and perhaps some training sessions, both of which are breaches of SD (social distancing) protocols.

It’s near impossible, at this time, to see how we will share our relative abundance with the many, many folks out there less fortunate than we — the people who are going to be left without a job, without backup resources, due to SD itself and the sharp economic recession brought on by SD that plainly lies ahead of us.

How, for example, does one help run a food bank without face-to-face contact in a crowded room with people widely exposed to this bug? I’m reminded by David Brooks that for many years after 1918 people wouldn’t talk about their experience; many were ashamed they had not done more for others.

A good can-do attitude helps a lot — and that depends on small victories and on keeping in touch with others doing the same. Lots of phone time. Lots of iPad FaceTime and its Android equivalent, Google Hangouts Video-chat — both free if you have the underlying hardware. (Personally I try to avoid the Facebook empire for privacy reasons but we’ve even stooped to using FB as well.)

Google Video Chat is easy and you are already signed up for it if you have a gmail account; you just have to talk your Apple-world friends into registering for it (still free but an extra step) so you can bring them into your video chats.

Zoom, a fairly new platform, is free for casual use and an absolutely essential tool. Sign up for Zoom now if you haven’t used it, and go out of your way to
participate with groups if only to learn how it works. Zoom is designed to handle larger audiences with moderator-like, on-line academic courses but it also works for church-sized or book-club meetings; the Diocese of Virginia has been using it for a while for all their Diocesan meetings. Zoom requires a license to host large, longer (>45 mins) meetings. This is an institutional step that churches and the like need to step up to.

This wonderful resource may be overwhelmed by all the academic use that’s going to fall on it next week, but Zoom management is committed to
persevering, and the company will have earned a large dose of good-will when this is behind us. Zoom has already suspended the 45-minute limitation that used to restrict the time for larger video-chat meetings using the free version.

Amazon is still delivering, and there is so much to deliver. Some people seem focused on staples like hand soap and toilet paper. My shortages run to things like a 10-foot USB-C to HDMI jumper cable. And projects: I just bought those light fixtures for the garden we’ve always wanted (bought the wire, electrical boxes, wire staples and connectors, etc. all on-line) and will wire them up when the weather obliges  But the point is, we don’t have to leave the house to get these things.

What you do need is some familiarity with how Amazon, Home Depot, etc. indexes such things — how to search for them, how to sort through Amazon’s pricing options, your options to get it delivered. If you don’t have Amazon
Prime this is a good time to upgrade to that for faster deliveries free. Prime also comes with access to Amazon’s on-line movies for streaming to your TV.

In Northern Virginia, Giant and Harris Teeter, Safeway and Wegman’s all provide on-line shopping with drive-through pick-up or, even better for some,
home delivery (may be slower and extra charge). You do not have to get out of the car to go in. Grub-hub delivers our favorite pizzas and kebobs to our door.

We are doing SD workarounds for keeping in touch. If you have Google Chrome as the web browser on your computer or phone and a Chromecast device on your TV, you can “cast” anything you can put on the screen of your laptop or phone onto the TV screen. A video chat on Hangouts with multiple participants can be cast right up there to the TV screen. (There are alternatives, including Apple TV).

We are exchanging photos of the spring flowers up here with friends. We have instituted a weekly family group video chat with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. Our book club is looking at Zoom or Hangouts for our next meeting with everyone participating from home. A casual bridge club we sometimes join has figured out how to play their games on-line at (real games, among themselves, not individuals against a computer) with a parallel video chat open so the participants can see each other and table-talk while they play. Life goes on!

Finally, there is, of course, the world of movies and television shows. Netflix, Amazon Prime and Google-Play-Movies are the big three for rentals. Plus, consider upgrading to “Passport” status with PBS (a $60/year donation) if you’d like streaming access to much of their library of Masterpiece Theater and
so forth — a clunky website but useful. See the Broadway spectacle you missed years ago, at Learn how to use YouTube for free videos of, e.g., famous/historical sports events — of course there will be no new games for a while. And the news: YouTube also carries the PBS NewsHour, usually live, and we already receive the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and numerous magazines on-line in addition to hard-copy, so we will stay in touch even if hard-copy distribution is suspended.

I will tell you, however, that what our family really has benefited from most is inter-active human contact through webcasting and video chatting. We need that constant reminder that we are all in this together, that we have friends, and that our family is basically OK.

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7 responses to “Surviving COVID-19 with Video Chat, Netflix and Amazon Prime”

  1. Jim Loving Avatar
    Jim Loving

    This is an excellent post, much better and more thorough and complete than the one I thought about creating.

    Since I have retired, I have mostly quit using collaboration tools that I used at work from 1994-2011 – including chat, conference call, web chat, etc. I just did not need or want to keep up with all the variations in technologies that have exploded in the last 10 years, nicely summarized here.

    So now, I get to try to play catch up on much of it by necessity. Just this morning, I had to set up google hangouts with my nephew, because we were jusing Skype and the other tutor we have been using only uses hangout or Facetime.

    The good news in all this from my perspective, is that the world will perhaps go back to working and collaborating in this way with these tools, realizing that we do not need to all jump into cars at 8am and 5pm every day, losing hours from our lives, clogging the roads, burning fuel unnecessarily, and getting face to face for often unproductive meetings.

    I challenge the “Design thinking” folks to figure out how to incorporate these technologies and practices into what they are doing such that people do not have to be face to face in their worklife all the time.

    Thanks much for this comment and thanks much JB for posting as a separate piece.

  2. T. Boyd Avatar

    Good ideas and thoughts. Thanks, Allen.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    Thanks Alan.. you done good!

    There’s some fool on TV impersonating Trump… and so lame.. doesn’t sound anything like the Real Thing!


  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    geeze, all these years I thought it was Alan… my apologies Allen!

  5. I may try conduct an annual meeting for our community group next month, online instead of in person.

    Believe we need to try to keep the group engaged over the break. One scenario maybe we can resume by June, but I am wondering if could be on hold until September.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    The wife used zoom with her fellow vestry and said it worked pretty good.

  7. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Here is newest canary in coal mine. Here is dominant emerging trend in America turbo charged now by carona-virus.

    “This Southern Town Was Growing So Fast, It Passed a Ban on Growth – Residents, most of whom came from out of state, are fed up with crowded roads and schools and boil-water advisories, By Valerie Bauerlein for The Wall Street Journal Feb. 3, 2020

    LAKE WYLIE, S.C.—This lakefront suburb of Charlotte, N.C., is among the Sunbelt’s strongest magnets for young families.

    Since 2000, Lake Wylie has tripled in population to 12,000 on the strength of its good schools, low taxes and proximity to Charlotte’s jobs in the financial and technology sectors. But those schools are filling up, the water system frequently fails under increased demand and 20-mile commutes are stretching to 90 minutes.

    Now, the town that grew too fast wants to stop growth.

    In December, the York County Council, which is led by Republicans, put a 16-month moratorium on commercial and residential rezoning requests and consideration of any new apartment complexes or subdivisions. It is the most comprehensive ban so far in a state where fast-growing cities are temporarily blocking everything from dollar stores to student housing, the Municipal Association of South Carolina said.

    “People say, ‘You’re a business owner. Why do you want to stop growth?’” said York County Council member Allison Love, a Republican who owns a jewelry store. “But we’ve passed the point of diminishing returns.”

    Ms. Love collected thousands of signatures in support of a slowdown, some at community meetings she hosted during rush hour, thinking constituents would attend rather than be stuck in traffic …”

    For more see:

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