COVID19 has disrupted physical interaction, with people in quarantine, self-isolated, socially distanced, stranded overseas, unable to travel, nor able to attend school or university, nor get together with family and friends, not able to obtain goods or services, nor go to work.
Online platforms like Skype and Zoom are substituting interaction using the internet, computers, pads and phones to convey audio and visual messages, with sharing of documents, photos, videos and whiteboards.
My intent here is to presage online revolution. A paradigm shift is a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions. Substitution online is proceeding apace and in some situations change could be permanent.
Some online meetings are so successful that travelling to meetings could end. Efficacy of the substitution could depend on the culture of interaction, its traditions, ability to adapt and needs for personal physical involvement.
Online interaction is radically transforming retailing, education and health services. Organisations going online could employ people in different roles, to code response algorithms and to serve customers from premises which could be altered or relocated. Consumers too could have different involvement, working at home or at centres, where online interaction can be complemented by personal interaction, for example, in education.
Curtailment of physical interaction by COVID19 is generating internet traffic. An online revolution could have benefits for some people and problems for others. Reduced commuting could free up time, empty roads and buses, congesting parks and public spaces. With home working online, dwelling in an outer suburb may not be a disadvantage.
Because employees could be redeployed, retrained or even lose their jobs, going online may be resisted. Technological and social changes, made temporarily for COVID19 without a masterplan, allow responses case by case that could shift familiar paradigms.
Authority requires people to obey, when they could transmit the disease to others by following their own beliefs. The disadvantage is for people who are compelled against their beliefs, who perceive evidence, inconvenience and reasons to take an opposed view.
Suppose a person is considering a COVID-19 edict about isolation, social distancing, work closure, or restrained shopping. When rules are definite and obedience is sanctioned by law, they might consider choosing one of 4 possible alternatives.
What are the social corollaries of these choices?
1-Conforming will pay off if the ruling is correct. Choice of dominant leadership by the majority is usual in a crisis but might be rejected as fascism when less urgent.
2-The protoype obeys when others don’t. Self-sacrifice could be involved and martyrdom is unlikely to change the outcome. Machiavelli might have recognised it as the worst choice.
3-A maverick disobeys, benefits from the majority’s obedience and pleases himself. He could be worsening the situation for the others. It is a selfish strategy, one that Machiavelli might have recognised as his best choice.
4-The Matthew Effect is going with the majority. The advantage is to hide in the crowd from rulers and from blame.
This simple analysis has been intended to describe choices that matter to everyone. Sled dogs must pull in the same direction.
Social distancing, self-isolation and quarantine in the COVID-19 crisis present you with new experiences of aloneness, without the close involvement with others you are accustomed to. Some humans are more social than others, but many face being alone with unwarranted trepidation. Aloneness is not a pathological condition. Certainly, being alone can expose you to more helplessness from accident or illness, but there are compensations, such as greater freedom and independence. Feeling alone should cease.
Aversion to aloneness can be treated by habituation, similar to a dog phobia. Gradual exposure can reduce fear and you will get used to it, as you would to a barking dog. Throwing yourself into an engrossing task can provide helpful diversion. Plan social contact, such as phone calls, at longer intervals. When you are not lonely, you feel more positive about yourself, more satisfied with life and its opportunities, such as being able to enjoy nature and feel healthy. Solitary living can even become preferred.
The Roman philosopher Cicero said that he was never less lonely than when he was alone.
Actor Robin Williams said ’the worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone’.
Solitude can have benefits, such as more peacefulness, reading, study, meditation, contemplation, self-expression, artistic creation, independent action. These can be an antidote to anxiety, stress, learned helplessness, anger, depression.
Restrictions on social behaviour could change how we act and think for long after the COVID-19 epidemic ends.
Proxemics is the study of how interpersonal distances and spaces affect human interaction, regulated by body language and communication. Individuals have intimate, personal, social and public zones, at increasing radii. If access to each other’s intimate zone up to 0.50 metres away is denied, intimate interaction would be reduced, affecting particularly relations between family members. Keeping people more than 1.0 metres away would exclude them from the personal zone, with a diminution of correspondence about matters of personal significance, such as observations and opinions. At social distances beyond, out to 4 metres, exchange of acknowledgement, greetings, humorous quips, retorts and peremptory comments are more likely. Further away, in the public zone, information might be broadcast by a speaker, or received by an audience member, without having individual personal content.
Besides reducing transmission of the virus, social distancing will reduce intimacy and personal expression. A role of near-distance interaction is to maintain and build a relationship, with communication of beliefs and negotiation of differences with others. When individuals are less closely involved and have to deal with each other less intimately, with others looking on, there could be winners and losers. Winners could be individuals who prefer to operate alone and at a distance from others without being closely questioned. Losers could be without familiar advice and encouragement from intimate relatives and personal friends who they rely on for satisfying interactions.
Remedial alternatives for social distancing are talking remotely, phoning, texting, messaging, posting on social media, email letter writing, representation by another or even engaging in identity politics. Compared with face-to-face talking and listening in a chat, they lack emotion, spontaneity, nuances, vernacular and inflections. Their communication may be more reflective, cerebral, figurative and empathetic. Consequences of substituting superficial interaction at nearer distances, with more deliberative distant modes, would be significant for well-being, independence and creativity.
Isolation would have different effects.