Imagine a society where no one complains about the coronavirus. Sounds wonderful to you? Then you’re lucky because we might soon get to that point! During the last decades, the world has rapidly evolved to be more global, more digital and more flexible. However, these changes have brought a shift towards more individualism, more loneliness and more time with our dear friend the laptop. If our society continues developing at the recent pace, current measures to contain the virus might be nothing but a prediction of what our future will look like. In 2050, our everyday life may resemble what we now call quarantine. The only difference: We will have chosen that path voluntarily.
The path to isolation
Talking about the time we humans spend on the Internet is no fun thing to do, but let’s look at one illustrative fact. According to the 2019 global digital report by “we are social” (can be found at https://wearesocial.com/global-digital-report-2019 ), the average human being is online more than 6 hours per day. This is data from last year though, where no pandemic was keeping us at home. Acknowledging the fact that while on the Internet, most people aren’t socially interacting in a physical way, this is a strong symptom of a trend towards isolation. Adding the fact that an increasing number of jobs is done remotely, and that online learning is a booming business sector, the number of reasons to leave our homes is significantly decreasing. Thanks to online delivery, indoor fitness options and video calls with friends, we have even fewer incentives to go out that door. The scary thing is that people are unlikely to do what they have little reasons for. Consequently, the path to isolation is clearly in front of us.
The corona sneak preview
Drawing this isolation scenario of 2050, we realize that the coronavirus is giving us an exclusive preview. Every single one of the social, work-related and teaching trends we’ve just mentioned are forced to fully unfold right now due to the virus. These weeks, the superstars of our lives are home office, skype calls, and online shopping. We are forced to isolate ourselves, to engage more than ever with our digital devices. We’re caught in our homes, only connecting with the world through our internet router. For our environment, this is an absolute jackpot, without all the cars on the streets and all the useless flights to business meetings that can be replaced by a video call. For our psyche, however, this is a disaster.
Everything that’s scary about the 2050 scenario of an isolated and lonely society is highly appreciated during this crisis. Many businesses can easily have their employees work from home while universities are outsourcing their lectures to their student’s laptops. Individuals rediscover video calls as a great means to stay in touch with their friends, even reconnecting with some people they haven’t talked to for a while. We’re starting to see clear upsides of the corona crisis. Institutions of all kinds are suddenly working efficiently to digitalize their processes, building an infrastructure that can be used for years to come. Even more importantly, workers and students are getting used to the different platforms and working styles that enable them to stay productive during a time of isolation. These skills will be very relevant over the next years, not just saving the atmosphere some carbon dioxide from airplanes but also potentially saving companies or universities money for office space or lecture halls. Unless we go insane over the next weeks, we’ll start to embrace the stay home society, we’ll see its benefits more clearly and we’ll get used to spending time alone in our rooms. This adjustment scenario is what we’re strongly hoping for in the current situation. However, this same ideal scenario is the nightmare for 2050.
Now is one of these rare moments where I’m careful about interpreting a situation in a positive way. Apparently, there are many ways in which corona is an actual bonus. Many of us have more time to unfold creatively, to reflect on their identity and dreams, to sleep enough and eat healthily. However, before overrating these interpretations, we should raise our awareness of what this stay home society really means. It tremendously limits our social contacts, to between zero and four people on average – at least if we stick to governmental restrictions. This is highly contradictory to what I believe is an essential feature of us as a social species: That we have an instinct, an urge to interact with a wide range of other humans. What’s more, this interaction requires more than a webcam and a microphone. We communicate through our bodies, through our touches and our smells. This is a human experience we have gotten used to for millions of years and that the stay at home society is depriving us of. At least I believe that physical interactions are essential for our mental sanity and personal fulfillment.
Whenever we try to view the current situation positively, we should remind ourselves how much it actually sucks. Not for us to feel bad, but to remember later what we don’t want our lives to look like. Lately, humankind has been developing in a way that’s not desirable, that’s less social and has little to do with our human nature. Let’s use corona to become more aware of the danger of a permanent stay home society.