The other day I was FaceTiming some college friends when someone said we should have a ‘zager’. I was a bit thrown off until someone voiced what I was thinking: “What’s that?” 

A friend clarified that it was a blend of the words ‘Zoom’ and  ‘rager’. Now we knew the word ‘rager’ was slang for 'party'. But ‘zager’? This was something completely new.

Apparently, despite the fact that people are staying home and social distancing in the middle of a pandemic, they have not stopped partying with each other. The only difference is they’re now doing it online with video communication technology.

Media reports say nightclubs and DJs in places like New York and Jamaica are hosting online parties where people can dance away in their homes—complete with a doorman and cover charge. 

Closer home, the space on my phone and laptop has taken a massive hit lately because of all the new social networking apps and extensions I have downloaded. Netflix Party allows me to watch movies with others virtually so I don’t miss movie nights with friends. 

Then, there’s the Houseparty app that has created an ongoing video call I can join at any point in the day and almost be guaranteed a conversation with someone. I even saw a video the other day of a couple having a virtual wedding. And only I know how much I have overused apps like FaceTime these past few weeks. 

To many, such online parties might seem unnecessary or even insensitive. But such virtual socialization is a way of adapting to our new and changed environment in the face of the anxiety and isolation triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our behavior has had to change as we adopt social distancing. 

Still, is this behavioral adaptation really necessary? Well, yes. There is a real danger that social distancing—or physical distancing, to be more precise—to fight the coronavirus pandemic might lead to another pandemic: loneliness. Many people have been living in near isolation since the start of the lockdown. 

But, equally importantly, prolonged social disconnection can lead to not just psychological but also physical stress. We all know that our bodies adapt to our environmental needs on a biological level to ensure our survival. For example, when we are anxious, we suddenly lose our appetite. It’s because our bodies release stress hormones, which help us prepare for a fight-or-flight response. 

This response causes blood to move away from our digestive organs towards organs and muscles that allow us to either fight the stressor or remove ourselves from a situation that’s causing anxiety, thus suppressing our appetite.

In many ways, social relationships are necessary for our survival. According to UCLA psychology professor Matthew Lieberman, food and shelter are not our only basic needs. Our brains are also wired to connect because being part of a group and forming social connections is also a basic need. We need social connections just as much as we need food and water. 

Evolutionary theory can explain why. We are not born with the ability to take care of ourselves. We need caregivers to survive. And even our biggest, strongest and smartest ancestors were less likely to survive if they lost their groups. We have evolved to desire companionship because our ancestors couldn’t survive without it

In fact, social relationships affect our mental and physical health so strongly that having and maintaining quality social connections reduces our mortality risk.

How have we adapted during these times of social distancing to maximize our chances of survival? Simple. We have shifted all our communication online. We are coping with the lack of physical interaction through a wave of virtual socialization techniques. And ‘zagers’ is just one of them. 

This might not be a one-size-fits-all solution and also depends to some extent on our emotional intelligence. We don’t need to be stuck to our devices 24/7, but we have to understand that humans have a need to stay connected. And shifting our social behaviors online during a time when face-to-face interaction is not possible has helped attend to this basic need. 

So, don’t be a virtual hermit. Maintain your network virtually and stay connected. It’s important for your health and survival.

Haripriya Dalmia is an Associate in the Learning Impact team at Harappa Education. She double majored in Psychology and Economics from UCLA. She enjoys singing and reading feminist literature. 

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