University students and academic staff around South Africa share creative tech-driven solutions to staying connected during the 21-day lockdown period.

Students and academics around the country have taken to technology to find ways to stay connected to family and friends during South Africa’s 21-day lock-down which started on Thursday, March 26. Wits Vuvuzela spoke to a few students who are finding less than ordinary ways to stay connected.

Witsie postgraduate student Ivana Siciliano, who is studying towards her honours in English, told Wits Vuvuzela that the lock-down has had positive effects on her relationships. “It has definitely made me grateful for the moments I have been able to spend with friends and family and the positive impact they have on my life”.

Siciliano uses an app called Netflix Watch Party, which allows friends from around the world to watch series or movies together in real time together whilst simultaneously allowing participants to chat over text. “I have ’social distancing movie nights’ with my friends where we can all watch a movie and chat from our own homes”.

Second-year BCom management sciences student Dylan Pretorius, who is currently studying at Stellenbosch University, turns to social media, WhatsApp and online gaming such as Fortnite and Call of Duty.

Fortnite is an online battle royale game that allows players to don a bespoke avatar and participate in gun fights with friends and players from around the world.

“Online gaming allows me to maintain relationships because you can interact with friends and family whilst partaking in a game which is stimulating and brings you joy, as in these games you will have to communicate and work together”, said Pretorius.

Pretorius’s family currently lives in Mozambique so he is accustomed to regular video chats and text message conversations. “The lock-down has made me appreciate the physical aspects of interaction with friends and family, however it has also showed me who my true friends are and who cares for me during this time”.

School teacher and soccer coach Ryan Stephenson also uses Fortnite gaming to connect with friends and family. Stephenson told Wits Vuvuzela, “I play online games where my friends and I can talk and catch up. This allows me to communicate with people who live overseas and in other provinces”.

When it comes to his professional work in the education sector, Stephenson uses Zoom, a video conferencing application, in order to connect with his colleagues and engage in work meetings to ensure the continuation of the 2020 academic program.

“During this lock-down I have had a chance to learn how to use websites made for online teaching. We do not want to drop our teaching standards”.  Stephenson also speculates that his students use various social media apps like Instagram to stay connected with their classmates.

Siciliano is also using Instagram to live stream herself baking from home, which she hopes will connect her friends and family who watch in a fun and active way, as well as provide some distraction and relief for people during this stressful time.

“This is a great way to build your relationships and cope with stress and anxiety. The ability to focus, achieve and collaborate all in one activity helps boost esteem”.

Actuarial science student at the University of Pretoria, Deuel Govender, said the lock-down is a necessary evil which has allowed him to spend more time with his family.

A self-proclaimed, ‘textbook extrovert’, Govender has recently discovered House Party, a video communications app that allows people to socialise and chat whilst playing popular games together such as heads up, trivia and quick draw.

“I have come to realise that it’s not necessarily the method that you maintain the relationships that’s important, but the maintenance of these relationships as a whole – no matter the means”, Govender said.

Despite the various benefits of connecting via technology, Govender said, “there are limits to the closeness you can achieve through virtual means”.

Siciliano echoes this statement and said that, “we all take for granted how much social interaction plays a role in our life and after this separation, I will undoubtedly be hugging my friends a little longer the next time I see them”.

FEATURED IMAGE: Student’s from around the country socialise online using technology, games and applications such as Netflix Watch Party, Zoom, House Party and Fortnite during the 21-day lockdown. Photo: Niall Higgins.