Students use apps to adjust to life under quarantine

Emily Shi and Jacob Shaw

With more time to themselves as a result of social distancing policies, many students have sought solace in applications, which can provide mobile users with anything from a mobile personal trainer to an at-home recording studio. This pattern follows a national trend, as overall app usage went up 20% globally in the first quarter of 2020 as compared to last year, according to a Forbes article titled “Coronavirus Boosted Mobile App Spend In Q1 To The Highest In History.” Horace Mann students are no exception.
Among the most popular applications are those used to communicate with others while socially isolated. Luke Weber (12) said that FaceTime is his “old faithful,” as it has always been an app that has allowed him to communicate with multiple people—friends and family—at the same time.
Similarly, although Catherine Mignone (10) has a grandmother who lives across the street, she has been relying on FaceTime to communicate with her due to social distancing policies, she said.
Apart from the standard video chatting apps such as Zoom and Facetime, students have been turning to more unique forums for communication. “Games that you can play with people are a good way to keep some normalcy,” Yana Gitelman (11) said. As such, Gitelman downloaded PSYCH, a game where players make up fake answers to trivia questions and vote on their favorite, she said.
Claire Griffin (12) said that her screen time has increased from three or four hours during a normal school day to 11 or 12 hours, mostly spent on social media and game apps. She attributes this increased screen time to more free time, she said. “I hear everyone else around me saying how they’ve even gotten bored of Netflix. Now that this has become our norm, we’re all kind of looking for stuff to do.”
Griffin often plays while calling friends over Zoom and screen sharing games such as Quiplash, an online version of Cards Against Humanity, she said.
In a Facebook group with members of the Upper Division called “Running from ‘Rona: Your Entertainment Hub,” Griffin posted her Draw Something username to invite others to play her in the online pictionary app as a form of connecting with her peers. She also sees gaming as a means of engaging socially with new people. While she doesn’t “necessarily have their numbers or Snapchats or anything like that,” Griffin still finds it very fun.
Weber has also kept up communication with his friends at school by playing mobile games such as Diplomacy, a World War I simulation app, with members of the Horace Mann Theater Company, he said. Although it is not perfect, Weber finds that playing games with his friends is “better than not hanging out with them at all,” he said.
Justin Gurvitch (10) said that he spends time interacting with a number of communities on Reddit, an online platform for people to post memes and discuss different topics. The genuine interactions he experiences with people he shares his passions with have given him a sense of stability during a tough time, he said. Ranging from political debate to meme perusal, Gurvitch uses Reddit as a recreational and educational means of expression and consumption.
Aside from communication, students have sought educational and organizational apps to work in conjunction with the HM Online platform. Gitelman, who previously used a paper planner, downloaded Google Calendar to schedule her daily routine with virtual learning, she said. Prior to the spread of COVID-19, Gitelman said that she would go to cafés with a short list of things to do and decide the order from there, but she has transitioned to delegating designated blocks of time for each item on her list.
With more free time, Mignone has enrolled in a computer science course on edX, a website and app that provides university-level courses to its users for free. Mignone already takes Computer Science II at the school, but she has used the online course as a way to “expand [her] understanding and appreciation of the topic,” she said.
To manage stress, Gitelman downloaded HeadSpace, a wellness and meditation app. When school was still in session, Gitelman used the Calm app to meditate every morning on the bus but has transitioned to meditating for 10 minutes every night with HeadSpace and reading before bed, she said. “During break I was feeling really anxious and lacking routine, so meditation helped as a nightly routine.”
For her wellness, Kimberly Dutta (11) has been following an app-based workout routine every day for three weeks, she said. After experimenting with different platforms, Dutta decided to alternate between using Melissa Wood Health and The Sculpt Society, two subscription-based apps that each employ a combination of videos and personalized workouts, she said.
“I started doing this method on the app Melissa Wood Health, and it is truly life-changing,” Dutta wrote in her new blog Forever Friday. “Her workouts are not super high intensity, but they BURN.”
Dutta finds an app-based system more “streamlined” than simply following YouTube videos or doing her own exercises, which can be confusing, she said.
Similarly, Mignone is following what she observes as a trend for athletes by using Nike Training, a Fitness app that designs custom workouts for users, she said.
Weber has been using his time during quarantine to focus on his passion for music. Aside from adding songs to his 500-song Spotify playlist, Weber spends his time doing “karaoke” apps with friends, he said. As a musician, he has also spent time recording songs on his phone and computer, the former of which he uses to record short melody ideas and lyrics, and the latter to create more fleshed-out songs.
Students have also been experimenting with other media forms. Griffin said that she has explored photo and video editing apps such as iMovie. Many of her creations have documented her experience at the school and with friends, which she has then sent to others.
Weber is sad that he will not be able to spend his last months at school and graduate with his friends, he said. “It isn’t perfect, but staying in touch with friends with apps definitely helps to make each day a little happier.”