Say what you like about its effects on sociology, politics, basic understandings of hygiene, and the delicate art of decency, but 2020's been one hell of a year for the science of loneliness. 10,000 months in, we’ve all become impromptu experts on isolation, finding the ideal ways to milk the bare minimums of human contact out of every possible activity in order to keep our brains from fully wilting under the hideous pressures of being alive.
Take the group-watch phenomenon, which has become especially prominent as socially distant friends attempt to jury-rig a way to get the same sense of hanging out and watching a movie together that we all used to take for granted. Although the basics of “Let’s watch a movie at the same time, talking copious shit about it as we go” are pretty simple, there have been plenty of streaming services and third-party apps designed to make the process a lot more seamless, and a lot less “Okay, everybody pause, I have to go to the bathroom and we don’t want to screw up the sync.” Now Disney+ is joining the corporate-owned fun, announcing that it intends to roll out GroupWatch, which will sync all viewers to a single stream, for American users next week.
But while Disney’s implementation of group watching has some nice elements to it—most notably the ability to work on any Disney+ platform, whether it’s a TV or mobile device—it does lack one vital element of the group-watching experience: The ability to chat back and forth with your fellow viewers via text, enhancing your watching experience by screaming “Baby Yoda!” every time Baby Yoda is on the screen, or noting, “I do not think that this Mulan movie was worth the tacit support of those alleged human rights abuses.” Instead, users will be confined to 6 different emojis, including, per Deadline, “like,” “funny,” “sad,” “angry,” “scared” and “surprised.”
Obviously, there are plenty of ways around this annoyance—although at least a few of them are going to involve having to teach Derek, who “doesn’t get computers,” what the hell a Discord is. Still, there’s something a little horrifying about engaging with a feature ostensibly designed to make us all feel a little less alone, and only being able to communicate by sending six emojis back and forth, trapped in our individual pods of “scared,” “angry,” “funny,” and “scared”—which is also the official nuMorse code for “2020,” by the by.
GroupWatch rolls out to U.S. Disney+ subscribers on Tuesday; it’ll be coming to international users later this year.