The coronavirus pandemic could have a material impact on the manner humans interface with each other prospectively. Humans are social animals that crave attention, love and physical contact with each other. But significant contact could result in greater spread of disease.
I never really thought much about the amount of time I spend with others. Of course, I try to have as much quality time with my immediate family as possible, but when I thought about how often I’m among many others in the course of a typical day, I was somewhat surprised. Is it something I need for my own mental well-being?
At work, millions of us file into the same building and we sit in rows of desks just a few feet apart from each other. Most companies want their employees to interface with each other regularly to inspire creativity and to improve the social experience.
Recreationally, we attend gyms and workout together in tight quarters. The most important thing is to try to be physically fit, but the social aspect of working out together is also pleasing to many.
We eat together in restaurants with 50 or 100 strangers, serviced by waiters we don’t know personally. For many New Yorkers, going to dinner is a very important part of their social life. It’s a time to reconnect with family and friends.
In school, our children join 10, 15, 20 others in classrooms all day long. The social aspect of school is an incredibly important part of a person’s maturation process.
Sporting events bring together thousands of us in huge venues including Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium. We sit close to each other and cheer on our favorite teams.
Summer is upon us. Going to the beach with hundreds of others is commonplace and will happen every day that there is warm weather.
All these activities are currently banned by the federal government or at least severely restricted. The authorities say the coronavirus will continue to spread so long as people congregate, at home, at school, at religious ceremonies and at sporting contests.
When will the federal government relax restrictions? It will depend upon the slope of new cases of coronavirus and the affiliated deaths.
In the meantime, humans across the globe must continue to act anti socially by minimizing contact with others. Will this new way of life persevere? Will humans be a little, or a lot more, resistant to socializing.
A broader point is whether these current antisocial requirements will become more widespread moving forward. For instance, will corporations recognize that they could decrease their carbon footprint by markedly reducing travel by their executives. There’s really no need to get on an airplane, travel 1,000 miles and have a face to face meeting when it can be done using Skype. Many in business believe that they are more productive if they meet regularly with their clients face to face. But the current ban on travel could make some corporations change the rules of engagement with clients.
For years, corporations have attempted to make it easier for women to be successful in high pressure jobs while they are growing a family. It’s possible that some corporations, after experiencing these new antisocial restrictions, will conclude that working from home two or three times a week will not decrease the productivity of their employees. By staying home more often women just may be influenced to stay the course and strive for greater compensation and higher positions.
Even the simple act of greeting friends, which typically involves at least shaking hands and sometimes a peck on the cheek may end. It may be too dangerous to continue with this formality given the problems related to the current coronavirus pandemic.
For 7,000 years humans have practiced these social rituals without interruption. Is it possible that after one month the whole system can be upended? Do humans crave the attention of others, physically and mentally?
It’s going to be really interesting to see how all of us respond if there are no long-term ground rules to protect us from disease. Having been around a long time, I’m not enamored with the prospect of being less socially involved with my friends. The real question is whether disease is so prevalent these days that less socialization is going to be critical to our long-term existence.