As health officials emphasize the need for serious social distancing measures in light of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., the question of how to survive the mental strain of social isolation looms.
One method to make self-isolation less lonely is Netflix's useful add-on Netflix Party, a streaming platform and virtual chat room that lets users engage with friends to watch movies and television shows simultaneously.
The official website describes Netflix Party as “a new way to watch Netflix with your friends online” to “link up with friends and host long distance movie nights and TV watch parties…”
Netflix Party is available as an extension to Google Chrome — the only browser with which it is compatible. Users who have Firefox or Internet Explorer would have to install Google Chrome in order to use Netflix Party.
The installation process is then fairly simple. The website links to the Chrome web store, where the user is then prompted to “Add to Chrome.” Once the extension is successfully installed, the user would open a video on Netflix — which requires an account — and select a video to play.
In Chrome’s address bar, the Netflix Party extension should be visible with the letters “NP” located to the right of the website’s URL. While streaming the video on Netflix, a person would simply click the “NP” icon and then select “Start Netflix Party” on the drop-down menu. They would then share the URL of the party to invite friends to watch along.
To join a Netflix Party, a user would click on the URL of the specific Netflix party, clock on the “NP” extension in their Chrome browser and automatically be redirected to the specific party.
Other websites and extensions have attempted to bring groups together, such as the now-defunct Rabb.it, TwoSeven and Watch2gether.
Mental health experts agree that any level of social connection is helpful as the nation socially isolates. Dr. Beth Salcedo, the Medical Director of the Ross Center for mental health and Immediate Past President of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), said that having a bevy of options for connecting, even virtually, "is ideal, so being able to watch movies 'together' is fantastic."
"Loneliness and isolation were problematic already for the general public and will be exponentially worse the longer this crisis keeps us apart; it’s really fabulous that companies who have the ability to connect us are doing so," she explained.
Similarly, Dr. Krystal Lewis, a clinical psychologist at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), encourages "individuals to not just be on social media, but to be engaged" while on the platforms. Lewis cautions against passively scrolling social media feeds, and instead to direct message people, Facetime friends, and talk on the phone more often.
“How you use it is most important,” she emphasized.
According to the Chrome web store, Netflix Party already has more than 1 million users and an average rating of three out of five stars.