Danielle Baskin and Max Hawkins are multimedia artists who met at a Halloween party in San Francisco, in 2016. Baskin was dressed as a lion with skeleton arms. Hawkins, who does “software-based performance work,” was dressed as the John Mayer song “Your Body Is a Wonderland,” a costume randomly assigned to him by a computer algorithm that he designed. He had just returned from a two-year trip abroad, during which his algorithm dictated where he lived, taking him to Dubai, Taipei, and rural Slovenia. At the party, Baskin gave Hawkins a tarot reading, and they hit it off. “We were both very interested in phone stuff,” Baskin recalled recently.

Hawkins told her about Call in the Night, a short-lived project he had started a few years earlier. “You signed up with your phone number, and once a week, between 2 and 5 A.M., you would get this phone call that wakes you from sleep and connects you with a random stranger,” he explained. Baskin was intrigued. She works from a garage studio—she specializes in “joke objects,” such as bananas imprinted with the Nike logo—and liked the idea of spontaneous conversations during the day. Soon after, Hawkins moved to New York, and they used the app to stay in touch. Friends joined, and then friends of friends. Last year, they released the app publicly, under the name Dialup, with subgroups for people who wanted to talk to strangers about breakfast, politics, or the full moon.

Then COVID-19, and widespread quarantining, came along. “My girlfriend was telling me about her family in China, who’d been doing this for months, and all the stories of people who are just totally bored and stuck at home,” Hawkins, who now lives in Los Angeles, said. On March 1st, he and Baskin launched a new Dialup application, called , that connects sheltering strangers at arbitrary points of the day. There’s no swiping right; the app decides who talks to whom, and when. “Something that’s missing from your life when you’re in isolation is that you don’t have these random conversations,” Baskin said. “You don’t have that serendipity.” Usage spiked in Iran, then spread to Hong Kong, Portugal, and London.

While self-quarantining, Hawkins has been busy fixing technical bugs, to keep up with demand, and Baskin has been making virus-inspired art objects, such as cling-on faux stained glass for nervous airline passengers to stick to their plane windows (“So when you’re on the plane it feels more like a place of prayer”). Baskin said, “I’ve been trying to create projects that are sort of funny and dystopian.” She also created a respirator mask with the user’s mouth and nose printed on it, to help people unlock their phones using facial recognition. Both have been making friends on QuarantineChat. Baskin was connected to a family in L.A. that was rationing pasta sauce. Hawkins had talked to a Colombian woman studying in Paris, whose roommate had tested positive. “They’d just thrown a party the night before, and so everyone who was at the party had to go into self-quarantine,” he said.

“I’d say my number-one issue is getting off the island, and then, after that, probably health care.”
Cartoon by Sofia Warren

Early last week, a housebound New Yorker joined the app. The next afternoon, the phone rang. “Welcome to QuarantineChat,” a recorded voice said. “We’re about to put you on hold and connect you to someone else anywhere in the world. Your prompt today is to go look out the window and describe what you see to your partner.” Some plinky music played, and then a woman answered. She introduced herself as Susan, a fifty-nine-year-old mother of three, who was hunkering down at her house in Missouri. “I have asthma, so I’ve been paying very close attention,” she said. “I was very far ahead of this. My kids thought I was nuts. They don’t think I’m nuts anymore!” She described what was out the window: bird feeders, a lake. “And we have some moles who have taken over my yard. They make a raised line in the grass, so you can see exactly where they’ve been, and they are so annoying.”

Susan had Xanax and a plan to reorganize her closets. “I had decided that this was going to be my year, you know what I’m saying? I’m going to be sixty this year, which is freaking me out. And I thought, I’m going to hit sixty being one hot chick. I was going to get my cataracts fixed, my shoulder replaced. Of course, I’m cancelling everything.” Her husband is a cardiovascular perfusionist at a hospital three and a half hours away. (They worried that the hospital would be short on masks, so Susan lent him one from her gardening supplies.) Their plan was for him to stay at an apartment near work if he got exposed. “When he leaves tomorrow, I might not see him for a long time,” Susan said, glumly. “I made his favorite black-bean burgers and his cupcakes and stuff, to remember me. But it’s a lonely thought. I will literally be alone. Just me, in this big, rambling house. So I will probably look forward to these calls more as time goes on.” ♦

365体育现金An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the Dialup app.


A Guide to the Coronavirus