The Youth Lab


“Digital dance raves. Streaming soundbaths. Book readings by phone. Now we’ve gotta get creative… The housebound are nimbly pivoting to virtual social gatherings. They’re holding birthday parties and bar mitzvahs over video chat, broadcasting D.J. sets and streaming concerts (some from the luxurious confines of celebrity homes), and establishing quarantine movie nights on Twitter for “virtual companionship.” NY Times

The World Health Organisation has recommended using the term ‘physical distancing’ rather than ‘social distancing’, because being apart doesn’t mean that we can’t connect socially in other ways. People are using their time inside to connect with one another via digital services.

This 52INSIGHTS explores youth socialising during the Covid-19 global pandemic.


“I’m actually talking to my friends way more these days compared to normal. It’s really easy to talk to everyone everyday actually, because it doesn’t matter where people are in the world. Being able to see their faces is so satisfying and keeps me sane. I’m talking to my granny everyday too because I know she’s by herself. We’ve had more contact in the last 2 weeks than in the last 6 months. We even made some bread together over Skype!” Tara, 29, UK.

The technologies that young people have available to them today make it possible to maintain strong and constant social contacts while ‘physical distancing’ during the Covid-19 pandemic. Platforms that have rocketed to popularity include Zoom, Houseparty app (2 million downloads in the last week), Google Hangouts, Skype and WhatsApp. Despite the fact that young people are physically missing their friends, they are able to chat to them face to face via these online apps and video technology.

Zoom has emerged not only as the preferred working/studying from home tool, but also as a host for the likes of post-work drinks, youth climate activism gatherings and virtual parties for young people. Compared to the Houseparty app, which inspires more impromptu casual and spontaneous socialising (users get notifications when friends enter the app), Zoom is more of a scheduled event. With groups of up to 100 people, you get 40 minutes free chat. It doesn’t matter that the tool was initially meant for corporate use - youth are adopting the most convenient platform at hand. Between February 22nd and March 22nd it saw a 1270% increase in downloads, and according to Appopi it was downloaded 600,000 times in one day alone as the outbreak hit the US. It’s now worth about $29 billion - despite experts' concern about its data security and privacy.

“On Saturday night, Claire Tran, 22, hosted her first Zoom party after being holed up in her Washington, D.C., apartment for nearly a week. Twenty-one of her friends popped in throughout the four-hour event.

“Before we started the call I was like, this is cool, maybe we’ll do this once a month,” she said. “After it ended, I was like, I need this every weekend or I’ll go crazy.”” Taylor Lorenz, NY Times

What makes this kind of ‘quarantine socialising’ interesting, is that people are having fun and getting innovative with how they spend their time together on these video calls. Younger generations are using the likes of Zoom in creative ways to host game nights, table quizzes, and even murder mysteries, together:

“I played a murder mystery on Zoom the other night with a group of friends. There was a game master who decided the ‘mob’, ‘sheriff’, ‘doctor’ etc… We were working between Zoom and WhatsApp groups. It actually was super fun once you've ironed out the rules and was a good way to take your mind off the outside world.” Anna, 28, Ireland.

Of course, young people are still finding time to party virtually too. In fact, ‘Zoom Hangovers’ are now a thing:

“How are we supposed to say no to video chats when we’re invited? I feel like my group-hangout-to-getting-stuff-done ratio is wild, but I can’t reject any requests for Zoom/Houseparty/FaceTime hangs? On Friday I had like six hours of FaceTime hangs, including a dance party, and I woke up hungover on Saturday and was like, “This is too much. What is this?”” Allison Davis, New York

Pop up remote raves and club nights like ‘Club Quarantine’ have been virtually attended by celebrities and music fans around the world. There’s so much socialising and activity that some young people are ‘exhausted’, may be craving alone-time and actually feel like all this socialising is getting in the way of making the most of isolation. Everybody knows that their friends haven’t got much going on... But, even when not on video chats to one another there are 1,000s of virtual classes and shows being streamed (from relaxed gatherings like meditation and yoga to intimate one-off music gigs). Plus, tools like Netflix Play are being used by young people to collectively watch movies and TV shows, while also chatting to one another. Phew.


Some young singletons are lamenting not having found a partner before the isolation period, but statistics coming from China tell us that isolation among lovers is not always idyllic. Divorce rates are rising, as couples have been spending ‘too much time together.’ Covid-19, it seems, has been the catalyst to killing bad relationships.

While most young teens are physically distancing themselves at home with parents, many 20 and 30 somethings are co-isolating with friends and significant others. One-on-one time with no breaks is not always easy but some dedicated partners are going viral for creating at-home barista experiences for loved-ones. Others have reported what it’s getting ‘stuck’ in isolation situations with people they’d just started dating:

“Suddenly, come the second week of March, we're basically in self-isolation, so obviously he's not going to find anywhere to live. He also lost his job because of coronavirus, so is literally just in my apartment, all day, with very little work to do. We're having a nice time and getting on fine. We eat a lot of cheese and drink a lot of red wine and have sex and I reckon this is better than being alone. However, I feel robbed of the excitement of the honeymoon period, my independence (which I treasure) and I have to try and forget about all the little niggling things that irritate me that wouldn't irritate me if we were dating normally.” Millie, 29, UK.

In fact, sex and dating in a Covid-19 world is a topic all in itself. College students in the US are reportedly going on Zoom blind dates. For those on the hunt for a long-term relationship, a virtual date is an easy way to filter people without having to leave the couch! Meanwhile as worries about when sex (between people not cohabiting) will be socially permissible again becomes a heightened concern, coronavirus porn is on the rise. PornHub is giving people free access to premium content, and health officials in NYC have even released Covid-19 sex guidelines - recommending masturbation.


In between managing co-isolation partners, Zoom parties and Instagram-Live table quizzes, memes are driving lighthearted conversation among young people. A Facebook group started only a few days ago called Zoom Memes for Self Quaranteens, has already grown to more than 150,000 members. Upon the news of the UK lockdown this week, 100s of memes started emerging online with humorous responses to the measures. There are memes about Covid-19 itself, memes about working from home, memes about social/physical distancing... Inspiration to provide others with light relief is flowing.

“The absolute worst was a friend sending me that 2000's-era photo of Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake in double-denim, captioning it 'a real pandemin." David Hamer

Elsewhere, RTÉ’s #CreateDontContaminate campaign has reached over 25million users and continues to drive creative, positive interaction between youth influencers and their followers across Ireland.

These outputs are not only a source of relief from the news cycle - they are helping people communicate important messages about physical distancing and symptoms while also nurturing a sense of togetherness via their relatability.


While many value the down-time, youth who have access to technology are permanently connected in modern times, even in times of surreal isolation. Platforms like Zoom are providing young people with some sense of normalcy and connection. With less to brag about, we’re seeing social media actually become more social - and orientated towards helping others - rather than a place for showing off. The virus is actually encouraging people to use the internet as it was meant to be used - to connect, share info and solve problems collectively. Youth are using it to hold themselves, and each other, up. Think about how you could embrace this shift by supporting online communities or getting creative with this positive side of sociability.

Youth are gravitating toward the platforms that function optimally for them at this moment in time. They are showing their agility to adapt and find the spaces that suit their needs most effectively. While there is plenty of room to provide some light relief and humour, it’s important to prioritise functionality and practical support at this moment in time. How could you integrate (fun or functionality) into current hero platforms like Zoom or Houseparty? The wide adoption of these platforms also presents the opportunity to host more intimate brand experiences for fans or customers.

It’s crucial to remember too, as Covid-19 cases continue to rise, that among all of this the heartbreaking reality is that some families are also saying goodbye to loved ones dying of the virus in hospitals via videolink.

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