The Need for a Digital Escape

Did our watching habits get weird or is it just the time we’re living in?

Tokyo walking tour

It’s not all that surprising that everyone’s screen time is through the roof or that we’re spending more hours than ever on video chats and social media. What is surprising, however, are all the strange ways we’re finding comfort via the internet.

Have you found yourself watching and rewatching the movies and TV shows you’ve seen countless times? There’s evidence that the human brain is so hardwired for contact with others that we become stressed and anxious when it’s removed. That’s where these old favorites come in. Shira Gabriel, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo, told Elemental that spending time with fictional characters can in some ways mimic the benefits of spending time with real-world friends or loved ones. It’s a concept scientists dub the “social surrogacy hypothesis.”

The Daily Valet. example

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Then there’s the comfort of browsing real-estate. If you like architecture or interior design, this can provide hours of distraction. While so many of us are stuck inside, sites like Zillow and Sotheby’s have been the only way to peruse the high-end homes you have no intention of buying, and representatives from both websites tell InsideHook that they've seen a surge in traffic lately.

Me? I couldn’t have picked a better time to discover the YouTube phenomenon of virtual walking tours. If you’re not familiar with the specific sub-genre of vlog, there’s no production value to speak of, no editing or voiceovers—it’s simply a person with a camera capturing the sights and sounds as they walk through city streets.

Prior to lockdowns, these videos might not have held much appeal. But today, they offer a relaxing way to explore new cities and relive beloved experiences like meandering the neon-lined streets of Tokyo. The walking tours then lead me to aerial tours of California from helicopter pilot Micah Muzio. There’s something freeing about getting off the ground and enjoying how simple and beautiful everything looks from above—all without ever having to put on a mask and leave the house.

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