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December 24, 2020

Santa, you're on mute.

We're used to virtual work, but virtual play is still somewhat unfamiliar terrain. 'Tis the season for giving, so here are some friendly tips from us to you, on how you can make the most of the tools at your disposal.

We're used to virtual work, but virtual play is still somewhat unfamiliar terrain. 'Tis the season for giving, so here are some friendly tips from us to you, on how you can make the most of the tools at your disposal.

These days, as the unsubtle affirms, even Santa is on Zoom. In turn, a slew of commentators have been rushing to tell us how 'Father Clickmas' will be 'zooming through the snow' to save Christmas. It's no secret however that there is something demoralising about this 'festive' turn to tech, especially in light of the lingering restrictions keeping us apart. After months of using virtual solutions for working and socialising, incorporating digital tools into our celebrations (days where we'd usually ditch the screens altogether) is clearly not as simple as giving Santa a quick ring, and its unsurprising that just the thought of it is fatigue-inspiring for many. Especially when we consider that our reliance on existing platforms, that are more suited to replicating business meetings than they are personable events, can actually foster yet more feelings of disconnection and loneliness. 'Digital togetherness', says psychiatrist Gianpiero Petriglieri, is rooted in dissonance, a fundamental dynamic that repurposing video-calling software does little to mitigate.

The festive magic, so to speak, is not inherent to the digital platforms we use -and are probably now rather tired of. What counts is how you use what you have, so, naturally, we thought we'd mobilise our digital insights to help inform some festive planning.

What the tech? How to meaningfully connect over the holidays

Gather around a game or activity

If you're feeling all Netflix-ed out, giving the annual monopoly game a run for its money by incorporating some remote game play into your celebrations is another great way to feel genuinely engaged from afar. This doesn't have to be a cobbled together webcam-poised-over-boardgame deal either. Our personal favourite, and much anticipated Tevent Christmas Party centrepiece, is Jackbox Games. The party packs take social classics, like charades, and make them seamless to play whether everyone is in the same room, or on the same call. All players join on a smartphone, or web-enabled device, and can play along online with a unique code - no app installation of extra faff required. It also requires essentially no prep time - gone are the days of pouring hours into researching obscurities for the next group quiz. Click here for a handy video tutorial on how to use Jackbox remotely.

For those of you wanting to keep traditions alive, there are some great online ways to play the classics:

  • Articulate: find the free online version here.
  • Ticket to Ride: install this app.
  • Scrabble: use free alternatives like WordFeud.
  • Cards against Humanity: find the free online version here and look here for a nifty guide on how to set it up.
  • Exploding Kittens: Get the mobile app, very cheaply, here.

Ditch the lengthy video calls

Of course you'll want to see your loved ones, but too much staring at screens and into people's faces will put you, and them, on the spot - which will only detract from the potential fun times to be had. Its difficult not to hone in on how you're behaving when physically on camera, and for many it introduces a performative element that can be uncomfortable after a while - hence the coining, and prevalence, of 'Zoom Fatigue' as both a media buzzword and all-too-familiar feeling.

Set up activities like watch parties to give everyone a source of communal entertainment; something to focus on that isn't just each other. Teleparty, formerly Netflix Party (which you might recognise from its brief vogue at the start of the year), lets you watch TV and film in sync, and has a chat option on the side for real-time commentary.

Meet in smaller groups

The virtual landscape, at present, is not equipped to facilitate the intricate social dynamics of meeting in-person. At a party, you wouldn't gather everyone you know, stand in a circle and stare at each other whilst taking turns to speak one by one. People flow naturally into smaller conversations, they come and go, and don't have to squint at a monitor to read someone's body language. Meeting in a smaller group can help circumvent some of this lost extroverted-ness by narrowing the focus to only a few people, making casual chatter easier than if there was a sea of faces on the same call - all with their own outside distractions background noises. This is difficult to do with current software (hence the need for solutions like Tevent) but not impossible - try setting up multiple calls and copy-paste a few links, letting attendees move between them.

Connect in short bursts throughout the day

In a similar way, connecting in short bursts - as opposed to one mammoth gathering - makes for a less intense experience, and one that actually accommodates activities, virtual or otherwise, far better than battling broadband at length. It's also true that the micro-delays associating with video calling in particular force us to work harder to detect non-verbal cues. A delay of just 1.2 seconds for example, has been found to be perceived as less friendly, less attentive and less focused. Long periods of being 'switched on' in this way can be tiring, even with family and friends.

Keep it spontaneous?

To plan or not to plan? Sure, this is mostly a personality thing, but - while it can be sensible, and fun, to plan your day(s) of festivities in advance - rigidly pencilling in everyone you want to call is a sure-fire way to make it feel like a chore. As we say, after months of virtual work meetings and calendar appointments, it'll probably make for a more relaxed day to go with the flow. Wouldn't that be nice?

Send out a link to your calling app of choice in advance to let people hop in and out, or just use mobile-friendly platforms, that can ring peoples' phones for a surprise call. We particularly recommend the roguish 'Houseparty' app, which lets you jump in and out of conversations, play simple games and generally offers a more casual and fun format than the comparatively stiff, retro offerings from Facebook or WhatsApp.

How ever you choose to spend your time off, we hope we've given you some handy food for thought on how to go about celebrating in a way that suits you. We'll be back with more of the content you know and love in the new year. All the best.

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