As we have been “living in the digital world” ever since the coronavirus took hold of the physical world, there has been an accelerating fear that we are losing ourselves as a culture and as individuals. It has forced many of our traditions to change or be canceled altogether. But where is this fear coming from? This is an attempt to shed some light on what many may be feeling during these novel times.
Society, as we know it, has been called into question and it has become apparent to just about everyone. Suddenly, there is even more complexity to reckon with when you can no longer trust in-person interactions. Everyone now must make more deliberate choices and weigh the tradeoffs between two values near-and-dear to the hearts of many: culture and health.
The first to go was “office culture”. The business-as-usual lifestyle is no longer floors of coffee machines, desks, and meeting rooms full of people. They have been replaced by the home’s spare bedroom or kitchen counter and video/audio conferencing tools. In a time when corporate real estate has taken a nose-dive, many are wondering if it will ever return to normal. But all agree business must press on regardless of the virus.
What is subtly missing when we talk about a “fear of contracting the virus” is that there is now a fear of in-person contact not just in the office place but wherever someone goes. No longer can we easily sanction random/non-essential encounters at grocery stores, visiting grandparents in nursing homes, or volunteering at soup kitchens. It makes it a very lonely world to exist in. And, yet, this loneliness is a commonality now as recent films such as the Social Dilemma have outlined. Many personal interactions have shifted to social media, video conferencing, and audio calls, but it isn’t the same. It has led us to become even more divisive and out of touch with others in a real-life sense.
This Thanksgiving, when large organizations, extended families, and friends have traditionally gathered for gratuitous feasting and an outpouring of togetherness, it hits hard that officials are recommending eating “the holiday spread” over these virtual platforms to prevent “the spread” of coronavirus. Many will accept the health risks as they fly, drive, and congregate as has been done for years to restore their sense of connection. Others will remain put to have a meal and some time for reflecting in their more immediate environments.
As we may be losing portions of our culture, it is also an opportunity to check-in with the existing aspects we have valued in the past. These “lost” or “lonely” feelings will birth newfound ways to connect. They will drive technical innovation because, after all, in 2020 nobody can hug a loved one or smell a roasted turkey over the Internet... yet. Until then, what are you grateful for?