The slow death of Physical Community.
I’m a massive fan of manga and anime, and in particular, the anime One Piece. Therein lies a time in which the story skips about a year forward and we are given a view of a stronger protagonist in a drastically different, more serious more world.
What had preceded this period, was an epic battle of massive proportions, in which we observed our protagonist lose his brother.
Change is never easy. In many cases, we think about pursuing it, but never actually do. It usually takes drastic, almost catastrophic consequences to change the way we act.
I do not doubt in my mind that this pandemic is such a case.
Who would have thought that any singular event would have revealed to humanity its fragility so easily? Who would have thought, that in a global society that has been more affluent than any in history, we would witness the amount of chaos, bravery, fear, incompetence, and competence, that we do today?
As such, I thought it fitting that I name this essay after that particular event in the manga.
Epic events always cause change, and in many ways, if we indeed have competent institutions(debatable), then this change is genuinely for the better.
To me, the most apparent change we had observed was this quick separation from one another. We may have taken human contact for granted. In the world we live in today, touching your loved one—heck nearly being close to them—could get them killed. Human contact and gathering have been essential elements of society. Now, we are seeing this very essentiality decompose before our very eyes.
Think about it! We gather for almost every important thing that takes place in our lives and yet—given the circumstances—cannot. Think of all the engaged couples that had to cancel their weddings due to the virus. Think of all the classes and lectures students are missing. Think of all the friendly outings, the early jogs, the meetings, the… shopping malls…oh, the shopping malls.
Oh… the shopping malls.
It just dawned upon me, that this decline in social gatherings and the rapid acceleration of isolated people, could have easily been described using these malls.
In America in particular, there has been a sharp decline in the presence of people in malls. This occurrence preceded the pandemic, of course, driven primarily by a world that became far more online oriented. Online shopping services like Amazon have disrupted the mall scene so much, we were essentially seeing what became graveyards of malls. The convenience of merely sitting down and ordering something online, far outweighed the benefits of commuting, walking, driving to a mall or supermarket nearby and interacting with people.
Malls weren’t just a place to buy things. They were a place to commune, to enjoy life with others. It was a place teenagers met up to go watch movies, to eat and dine, to take their minds off everyday life.
Today, shopping malls and supermarkets all but saw a peak in their utility as a way through which people could stack up on toilet paper, and as the pandemic got more serious, barely saw use as they were seen as hotspots for viral transmission.
What has, however, seen an uptick in use, are online shopping services like Amazon, online book stores, and other online-centered services. The amount of convenience it provides us is pretty obvious. Many of us simply do not want to move, especially when others are being paid to do so on our behalf.
This trend generalizes to places of worship such as churches, mosques, temples; places of temporary self-rejuvenation like coffee shops and parks and many more.
These places of community, mean a lot to us. We heard stories of people refusing lockdowns in Iran due to the mere fact that they would be incapable of worship. This, of course, led to the dramatic spread in infections across the country, and region as a whole.
People feel community to be an integral part of our lives, and in many ways feel as if we are experiencing a situation in which, many of these communities that we cherish will be altered forever.
The walking brain.
On the other side of things, other types of communities are growing in participation. Gaming platforms, for example, have seen a dramatic uptick in participation. At the dawn of the pandemic, steam was said to have recorded about 20 million log-ins.
This move towards online/digital worlds may be seen as a natural progression of things. If physical environments and communities fail in a time of crisis, there’s a high chance they weren’t nearly as robust as we wished them to be. This break away from communal environments may just be another way we are evolving; another way to keep us safe.
But this long-term distancing from ourselves, it isn’t as sustainable as we wish it be. There is no way we have managed to understand ourselves enough to live by and with ourselves for a prolonged period if something doesn’t change.
If such becomes the case, we merely become cognitive creatures; creatures of the mind. This isn’t necessarily a good thing. Interaction and movement keep us healthy, true communion makes us feel healthy; touch makes us feel healthy; sex keeps us on our toes. We are creatures of physical connection and this virus will make us think hard about how we interact with one another.
There will be a dramatic uptick in the use of online environments: AR and VR technology may finally find their general use cases. Remote Learning is bound to see a dramatic rise as is Remote Work. Social Media is already seeing its use.
An increase in social awareness about biology and more specifically viruses: We may even see masks become fashionable.
Physical interaction policy may become a thing: Singapore showed it was willing to introduce such policy in a time of crisis. If data suggests we could reduce societal contagions through such policy, we may see these become the new normal.
Increase in preventative care policies.
Increased funding for the study of psychedelics and cognition: As social isolation and minimal interaction trends grow, there is a high chance we may see upticks in mental illnesses. Psychedelic substances are showing great promise in their ability to heal such problems. The mind and its interaction with the world around us will no doubt be of great necessity to us.
The death of malls.
The rise of contactless, minimal interaction supermarkets.
Increase in online delivery services as well as increased automation of delivery.
Greater appreciation of nature.
The death of physical communities and the rise of virtual communities will be one of the greatest accelerations this pandemic produces. Through it all, we must remember, however, that we are human beings, social animals, physical animals, and physical animals cannot do away with intimate interaction. Governments must devise policy to combat the urge for citizens to isolate. The attractiveness of online environments is something we already find ourselves struggling with. The cognitive impacts of a society that’s extremely online are already well-documented.