Since the coronavirus outbreak began, I feel that our “normal” has been turning into a “new normal”- a new baseline that is far from our pre-corona comfort zone, and I doubt that we will return to everyday life as we knew it.
Our lives have changed in ways we are not fully aware of: our interaction with other people, our self-perception, our understanding of the world and our place in it - have all shifted.
Social Isolation and the future of Sensory Perception
One new reality that stands out clearly is the sharp decline in physical interaction with other people: meeting face to face, touching one another, even if only with a handshake or a pat on the shoulder. Gestures that are signs of love and affection such as hugging and kissing has now become contagion risk factors, so we are simply not interacting physically with each other.
Who would have thought that most of our doctor visits would move online? That we’d be sending a picture of our skin to our dermatologist over WhatsApp? Or that we could consult a cardiologist over the phone? Suddenly 80% of our medical problems can be solved without our doctorseeing us or touching us
Will we have to give up most of our physicalcontact? And if we do, will it alter us as human beings? Is the need to touch so inherent we can’t give it up, or will we see a new human who can get by without physical contact?
From my own experience during quarantine, I can say that my oldest teenage daughter didn’t mind the physical isolation so much.Even before coronavirus, she was communicating with her friends mostly through mobile apps, even talking with them through voice mail. For her, not much has changed.
My little children, however, found it very hard to be away from their friends. For them, social interaction is about physical interaction: playing, running around together, touching each other.
That’s what makes children super transmitters of all kinds of diseases, including coronavirus. In my eyes, however, it is also an indication that physicality is an inherent part of us. I think or would like to think, that my older daughter would also, at some point, started to feel lonely.
The Rise of Avatars
As someone who works a lot with robots, I am sensitive to another change: the rise of our avatars.
The subject of avatars and human representation jumped from philosophy books into the real world a few years ago, with the rise of video games and that very famous movie – Avatar.
Since then many technologies such as video conferencing, online shopping, and of course countless video games have allowed us to create representations of ourselves that are farther and farther away from who we are in the real world (or so we assume).
Countless books and films depict a dystopian world where our reality will completely shift to our avatars (I personally really liked the book and movie Ready Player One).
Who would have thought that a scenario that belongs in a book or a video game, where a pathogen sweeps the world and forces us to hole up in our houses and send out only our avatars to meet other avatars- that such a scenario would play out in the real world?
Take video conferences for example. It is not us meeting, it’s our representations. Representations that we can change with different backgrounds and filters. With video communication, we don’t share the same physical space and body language is minimized. Our interactions become more cerebral and less than fully human, and no doubt this is affecting us.
Can we, for example, really hold a proper brainstorming meeting through Zoom? You can’t really raise your voice,cut someone off, and pat their shoulder without being in the same physical space, and seeing the ‘white of their eye’.
This physical disconnect affects our work, our relations, and how we view ourselves.
When I was younger I’d get annoyed when attractive people talked in an overly pleasant manner and listeners didn’t even notice what was actually being said. They were swayed by the form of thetalker, not their substance.
The new normal has torn us apart and intensified the use of technologies that help us mask our real selves, thereby empowering form over substance. A very old ‘annoyance’ of mine suddenly got a whole new twist.
Perhaps, as we get used to living with coronavirus, we should accept the fact that there is a new version of us humans, a Self V02, and try to find ways to preserve our authenticity and closeness within the new confines.
I don’t think however that we should give up our physicality. We should try to find ways to meet and touch. The noticeable anxiety of my younger children in quarantine is, I think, a sign that this normal is not really normal. In a previous post, I talked about what robots can and cannot do for us. Heretoo, I think there is something fundamentally human that makes us who we are and we should try to preserve it, despite the new realities posed by this pandemic.