Internet Fosters Sense of Normalcy in Extraordinary Times


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LOS ANGELES - For people around the world who are living under a stay at home mandate during the pandemic, the internet has created a sense of normalcy during extraordinary times.

The screens of mobile devices and computers have become a window to escape to places hundreds or thousands of miles away.

On the web, anyone anywhere in the world can take in the sights and sounds of cultural sites for free in New York City such as opera from the Metropolitan Opera,  virtual 360 tours inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art or a trip to the New York Botanical Garden.

Other organizations and businesses in different cities are also offering online entertainment.

Through social media, celebrities offered intimate chats and musical performances from inside their homes. American musician John Legend played the piano and sang for his followers on Instagram. Chris Martin, the lead singer of the British rock band Coldplay, also chatted and sang for his followers on Instagram.

Some people have found creative ways to make the internet more interactive.

With online video conferencing, Jason Smith has been able to play online board games with friends, host virtual watch parties of a favorite TV show and even have virtual dinners. He places a TV monitor on his dining table and chats with his friends during the meal. He and his friends even made the same dish during one virtual dinner.

"It's nice to be social. And somehow seeing people's faces while you do this normal thing, even in a really not normal way, just seeing faces kind of makes it feel a little more normal and a little, a little easier to swallow, a little easier to digest," Smith said.

Smith also organized a virtual birthday party for his 8-year-old daughter, which became an inspiration for Nan Paik, whose daughter was also turning 8 and attended Smith's party. Before the pandemic, Paik had planned to have a birthday where her daughter would spend it with friends and had even planned a family trip.

"To tell her that I couldn't do any of these things for her was really hard," Paik said.

After attending Smith's virtual party, Paik decided to organize one for her daughter Emma as well. It turned into two parties.

"She (Emma) made an agenda. She had a guest list. You know, one party was school friends and the other party was Girl Scout friends," Paik said.

"It was fun because they sang happy birthday, we did a scavenger hunt and we did a dance party," Emma added.

For both Paik and Smith, the virtual birthday parties entertained the kids and made it a memorable birthday.

"My daughter at the end of day actually said it was her best birthday ever, which was really sweet," Smith said. "I can see why she said it after the day she had because she was just surrounded by love all day long. That's really special, especially at a time like this."

"It's also fun because they (friends) don't have to eat my cake and don't make a mess around my house," Emma said with the practicality of an adult.

The success of the party helped Paik feel better during this stressful time.

"It really, really helped us I think, work through everything, and for her to really know that, hey, people still care and people are thinking about you," Paik said.

Even as people are stuck in their own homes, the internet and video conferencing have created a new digital normal and allow people from 8 to 80 stay entertained and connected during trying times.