A couple of weeks ago (or what could have been a couple of weeks ago but was really just a couple of days ago), everyone on Instagram Stories seemed to be posting drawings of carrots. The crudely rendered orange triangles all appeared in a chain, showing the carrots that came before, some of which were anthropomorphized with googly eyes and smiley faces and little green leaf hats. The point was that you were supposed to draw a carrot and then “challenge” a bunch of other people into also drawing a carrot by tagging them. It was called the “carrot challenge.”
Like most social media challenges, it was sort of fun to participate in but pointless to consume, and it is the kind of thing that normally I would internally roll my eyes at and keep swiping. But when I saw the carrot challenge on my friend Desiree’s Story, I thought of her, bored and confined to her Los Angeles apartment, spending five minutes drawing a little carrot and then posting it, not because the carrot was any sort of artistic achievement, but because the level of desperation we all feel for mindless distraction and social connectivity is so high that we’ve landed on drawing shitty cartoon vegetables to entertain ourselves. The carrot challenge, I realized, was good.
Viral challenges like this one have proliferated during a month in which we are ordered to stay at home and distance ourselves from one another. There’s one where you post a picture of a dog and then challenge someone else to post a picture of a different dog. The only one that is even remotely challenging is the push-up challenge, where if you get tagged in a story of someone doing 10 push-ups then you also have to do 10 push-ups. (It also happens to be the least fun.)
Online has gotten weirder, and not just because of the dorky memes. My adult friends are suddenly expressing interest in learning TikTok dances meant for children. Some of us are buzzing or bleaching our hair or giving ourselves quarantine bangs because we know it’ll look cool in pictures and nobody is going to see us in person for months to fact-check that assumption. People are getting hornier on “Close Friends.” Zoos are literally letting animals out of their cages and filming it. I joined the streaming app Twitch, for no reason other than the fact I had the idea to start a channel called Drunk Home Improvement, where I would drink wine and try to hang shelves in my apartment, because if not now, when?
These developments are a salve for a boredom that only the luckiest in the time of coronavirus are experiencing. For those with children or families to support, or those with jobs that require them to risk their health and come into contact with strangers, or those who have been recently laid off and are now spending their days trying to get ahold of the unemployment office, coronavirus has not contributed to any sort of boredom boom, and has indeed made things much, much more difficult.
But this is also all the more reason why increasingly weird online posting habits are, right now, providing a collective good. Starved of any actual time with my friends, I’ve become obsessed with following them online, even as their lives have become extremely monotonous and mostly devoted to whatever books they’re reading or recipes they’re making. While normally I worry about posting too much on my Instagram Stories, because truly who cares, I now feel, as Kaitlyn Tiffany writes, as though I have a “moral responsibility to post my boring life,” in a tiny attempt at curing the profound loneliness that comes with social distancing.
Remember when we used to worry about “screen time”? Remember when we thought there was something wrong with interacting with the world exclusively through our phones and computers, and now that’s the only possible way to do so at all? In those times, we used to worry about looking bad in photos and content that underperformed. Do you remember that? I don’t, really. In the New York Times, Nellie Bowles, who writes frequently about these sorts of questions, declared that she has “thrown off the shackles of screen-time guilt. My television is on. My computer is open. My phone is unlocked, glittering. I want to be covered in screens. If I had a virtual reality headset nearby, I would strap it on.”
The digital world is now a much better place to be than the real one, the scary one that will infect you if you touch it. Every good thing has gone virtual: happy hours, first dates, weddings, dance workouts, nightclubbing, church. It’s your job, and all of our jobs, to make it less miserable than everything else right now.
So, a plea: post with abandon. No update is too minor. I want to hear your opinions about the TV show I don’t watch. I want to know if you accidentally bought too much of the wrong kind of cereal. I want to see your poorly drawn carrot. No one is judging you, because nothing that happens in the torturous privacy of quarantine counts. By the time you have to look your friends in the face, they’ll have already forgotten.
As I have stated before, now is not the time to worry about if you are tweeting too much, or if it is a waste of time. It is time to try out a “bit,” even if you are not preternaturally prone to comedy. It is time to livestream your skincare routine or the sweeping of your floors. If you have a pet or child, it is time to post even more videos of them than you have ever posted in your life, like you’re begging your friends and family to tell you “Enough already.” It is time to post like nobody’s watching, even though many more people probably are.