Social distancing could change our relationship with FaceTime

For the siblings Emily and Evan Seegmiller, both in their 20s, FaceTiming with their parents is a weekly habit. Evan is a social-media coordinator in Wisconsin, Emily is in graduate school in Indiana, and their parents live in their hometown in Illinois. They’re finding a new appreciation for the tech, especially because their plans for future visits are now up in the air. “We are a very close family, so FaceTime is a go-to no matter what, but with this pandemic it makes it much more important,” Emily told me over Twitter DM. The siblings were hoping to join their mother on a trip to visit their grandparents in Arizona at the end of the month, but during their last FaceTime session, they decided they should cancel. Their grandparents are in their 70s, and coronavirus infection is more dangerous to the elderly.

But social isolation, too, can be especially unhealthy for older adults. While public-health experts agree that social distancing is the most effective way to keep people healthy when vaccines and tests are lacking, staying away from loved ones can be dangerous in its own way. That’s especially true for at-risk groups who may face lengthy quarantines, self-imposed or otherwise, says Alan Teo, a physician who teaches at Oregon Health and Science University’s School of Medicine. Research has shown links between social isolation and health problems, including depression, at every stage of life. In a 2018 study, Teo found that the use of videochatting helped reduce the risk of depression in people aged 60 and older, a group that is more likely to be socially isolated than younger people. Videochatting was more effective than email, social media, and instant messaging.