From the start of the global crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, we have lost a great deal and got depraved of so many things. The loss of all the things we so easily took for granted is what truly had hit us hard. Above all other things, freedom of movement comes to mind that has been limited on different levels. Certain countries have banned individuals from leaving their apartment at certain hours, while some older generations were completely locked down. Even if the burden of old age is not something you need to bear on your shoulders, making you privileged and free to go outside during the day, you have soon realized that your options are quite limited. It boils down to being able to take a walk, which is great, or stand in lines in front of the few open supermarkets, which is not so great.
Moving freely outside at greater lengths is not even an option. Going from one city to another has become a serious project that needs to be carefully planned in advance – with all the ins and outs sorted beforehand. Travelling to another country now is not even a part of one’s thought process. I just hope we don’t end up in a permanent state of things where we reminisce about travel, questing whether it was all just a dream and whether people actually journeyed from one country to another, or they just read about it in “believe it or not” newspaper sections.
Back to present: even if we are allowed to go outside and leave the apartment, there is no place to grab a cup of coffee. The best we can hope for is exchange a few sentences with another person, not more. Which begs the question – does it make sense to go out at all? If you live a pet-free life, you must feel sad for the people who actually have to take care of their cat or walk their dog out at a dedicated hour when walking is permitted. You may even console yourself by thinking that pets actually envy your freedom to not have to go out and leave your apartment, being confined to the safety of your walls.
If you find all of that odd, without being able to comprehend how we suddenly ended up in such a situation, stop questioning yourself. This is the new normal now. The best evidence to support this new reality is the freshly defined term for that type of behavior in interpersonal relationships: social distancing. It is not like you are avoiding people or you stopped seeing friends and visiting family, you are just social distancing. In all honesty, it would make much more sense to use “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing” as we are trying to avoid physical contact, not contact in general. But hey, why nitpick on terminology – it is the way it is. All we need to do now is practice social distancing, and that’s it.
Let’s be very clear on this one – social distancing is not only recommended, but necessary behavior for people in this type of crisis. Every reasonable citizen will have no issues with this. The question we are rightfully asking is whether the social distancing will continue once the crisis ends and the pandemic is over? Are we going to go back to the olden way of spending time together, reenacting previous patterns of socializing? The optimists think that we will, the realists know that we will not.
Normalization of social distancing will be enabled by the good old information technology – just like it enabled the concept of working from home. More precisely, thanks to tech developments, we successfully initiated and advanced models of social distancing even before the pandemic occurred. Being more connected through modern technology meant becoming more and more socially distant. The chat groups across various platforms have become a substitute for “crews” we used to hang out in and socialize with. Apps like Houseparty, or the option to watch the same movie or TV show on Netflix from various locations at the same time, while commenting and exchanging impressions have become a substitute for going to the cinema with friends, or physically get together in one living room for a show screening. Even party games took a leap into the online world, allowing friends who are not together to play from different locations.
At first, the tech innovation enabled a closer connection to the people with whom we really couldn’t spend time with in one place at a particular time. Today, under the given circumstances, this is the only chance we have to socialize. It is not that far fetched to imagine that social distancing as a way of socializing will remain the most viable option when we decide to spend some time with friends without getting together physically in one place – as that would be a total waste of time and an unnecessary effort.
It wasn’t that long ago when the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) phenomenon has become the social norm. It is the fear that we are missing out on something important induced by a surplus of information that we cannot process, which in turn makes us obsess about what is happening around us, what is being shared on social media and across platforms with a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing. Mark Manson, the bestselling author of “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” and “Everything is F*cked” is now talking about a new incarnation of FOMO he brands as FOGO – Fear of Going Out. Namely, if FOGO kicks in, you dread going out to have a coffee with friends, walk the dog, go to the theatre or a concert, see a person and leave the virtual world for a real one as it may happen that you will be missing out on something in the virtual world (that in the meantime has become your new reality).
It is not like we haven’t felt this before, on certain occasions. It is not like we haven’t really thought about it. But it was a distant future up until yesterday. Today, being forced into the virtual world overnight, the future has crept so close that it is turning into a present-day reality. We are increasingly aware of it in the current situation. But let’s not fool ourselves. This has been here long before the coronavirus. We had it coming, and we knew it.