The pandemic of coronavirus, or COVID19, it’s raging as I write. I would have never thought to have lived in the middle of such a pandemic disease but here I am. I’m not a doctor but just a normal blogger, so I won’t nor I could write about the virus, its effects and how to avoid getting it. Follow the suggestions of your government, follow only official channels as the fake news being spread about this pandemic are staggering.
What made me willing to write this article is reflecting on what we learned from the coronavirus. Not scientifically but sociologically. And about our mental health status as a society. There have been quite a great number of behaviours that surprised, shocked and confused me, and I bet a lot of you too, that I find interesting to categorize and have them on, virtual, paper to ponder upon. Let’s see then the list of what we learned from the coronavirus.
Working from home is easier than we thought
I have been a freelancer writer for years and thus working from home with my 6 years old laptop is a customary situation. I am privileged, so to say, as my skills and work history allow me to work from anywhere with a connection and a computer. The vast majority of people cannot.
Or so we were used to think. In countries who locked down a large part of their citizens, like China or Italy, due to the coronavirus spread, many workers were recommended to work from home. Workers who were working in offices, largely, but not exclusively them. Most of them were used to commute for up to a few hours with their cars or using public transportation and found themselves suddenly saving a lot of time by working from home. And the world is going on, almost flawlessly.
Let’s be clear: working from home requires adapting. Adapting for managers that need different ways to check the productivity of the employees and to organize online meetings, and workers, who need to learn how to balance private life in their own homes with the necessity of being productive. That will take many years to finally settle to a satisfactory level for everybody. But the seeds have been planted: society can work pretty well even if a large part of white collars jobs are done from home. That is also hopeful for the environment as there will eventually be millions of employees that won’t need to use a car or any transportation system, potentially polluting the air, to reach their workplace. Our lungs will be thankful.
Without even considering the repercussions on society itself of this, think about how many more workers will decide to move to a cheaper country while maintaining their remote job, the digital nomads; one of the most revolutionary things we learned from the coronavirus is that remote working is possible and affordable for many categories and companies.
Jokes aside, we’re social beings
Remember the memes and jokes about not having any friend, about having to spend weekends at home because nobody invited us anywhere, being single and spending more time with Netflix than our supposed friends?
Well, these seemed to be true, even for the majority of us all. But what instead we learned from the coronavirus is a slightly different reality. People forced to be isolated to not let the virus spread or whole countries locking down and forcing their inhabitants to not leave their home for days, like in the Wuhan province or right now in Italy and other EU countries, had a really hard time to accept it. One thing is joking, another is accepting the jokes as your reality for weeks.
Which lead to people panic buying (we will return on this), fearing to be away for long from their relatives and booking return tickets home in a hurry, violating the quarantine just for a walk outside, continuing to enjoy a drink out or a pizza with friends despite the increasing restrictions imposed by the governments and many more behaviours that are bordering the criminal from a pandemic containment point of view. People stubbornly refused to be locked down inside their homes for a few weeks, risking being arrested, denounced or quarantined in even stricter levels of isolation to be able to keep some socialization.
And this in developed countries, were internet, tv, radio and mobile phones are ubiquitous. There is zero risk of being cut off from the world or our friends, even if the situation with the virus would escalate to a point where nobody at all could leave their home for even a minute. We will still be able to message, video call or the good old audio call with relatives and friends. Or be able to entertain ourselves with the largest quantity of media any human population has ever had in history. Tv, radio, countless articles, videos and games on the internet, social media, ebooks, online magazines; there’s no shortage of things we can do without leaving our homes (heck, even our beds).
And yet what we learned from the coronavirus is that people are social beings, aren’t able to stay away, physically, from their loved ones for long, and that despite the jokes we make about not tolerating too much human interactions and being exhausted by them, we still crave the contact with other human beings and will be willing to break the law, if needed, to have it. Most of us, at least.
One of the most uplifting and funny memories of this pandemic will surely be the videos of average people singing, chatting and dancing on the balconies of their houses while being forced to stay home. These videos tell us more than a few sociology books ever could about what we are as a species.
People panic buy. A lot
Connected with the above fears, perhaps we have learned from the coronavirus that we depend a lot more than we like to think about the availability of things we give for granted, and actually not give much value, in our lives. Everybody has seen the amount of sanitizers, hand washers, disinfectants and soaps being bought in a hurry by families for the fear of the virus crawling into their homes and over their skin. Even if the quantity needed to protect oneself wasn’t big, people rushed to collect as much as possible, fearing that it would become quickly unavailable.
Which has been rarely true. Another thing we learned from the coronavirus is that the distribution system of supermarkets and shops in general is quite solid and only remote areas suffered a serious lack of some products for more than a couple of consecutive days. The world, as with working from home, mostly works.
At least cleaning and disinfectant products are actually useful in fighting the coronavirus. I do understand those who tried to buy more of them were thinking of saving themselves from the virus. I hope they will, by the way.
What is surprising is the other products people panic-bought in the last 2 weeks of this pandemic. Toilet paper is laughable as neither the effects of the coronavirus would cause an increased use of it nor there was any risk of the paper to become unavailable. It doesn’t expire either so why rushing buying tens of rolls? Mystery.
The opposite is valid for fruits and vegetables. They go bad quickly and therefore buying dozens of them will inevitably end up throwing away a large part of the purchase. Unless you’re vegan, probably. Yet people got scared that the distribution system wouldn’t work and these perishable foods would be the first to suffer from the consequences. Which, again, it’s not what actually happened.
In the end, we learned that people are prone to panic buying the most improbable goods and that is a sign of a deeper issue, one of lack of trust (in the government in this case) or in themselves (being able to manage many days without relying on shopping).
Being alone is harder than we imagined
Same for people becoming more restless when quarantined, finding unbearable staying inside for days. But for a minority of die hard introverts, the coronavirus pandemic forced a great deal of us to face our fears of loneliness, being left alone by friends and colleagues, of not mattering, of missing out, of being bored. Like ourselves depend on external factors to make us feel alive and cutting off them, life is uncertain.
I believe in the end this is a very valuable lesson that this pandemic is forcing us to face. Learn to be by yourself, to enjoy your company if possible, to rely on yourself to be entertained, to become more focused on what really matters in your life instead of what society forces us to think about every day. It’s a great challenge in being more self-organized, responsible and ambitious. If we found ourselves to have been instead mindlessly watching tv or chatting all the time with friends we can’t meet anymore, well, we lost this challenge.
Cover photo by Anna Shvets