Friday, April 3, 2020

Social distancing- a new or old phase in our lives?

What great little social distancers we can all be when asked. Although there are exceptions to this rule, many of us have been practising social distancing for years. Whenever it’s your friend’s birthday and you send him or her a text message it’s a kind of social distancing, isn’t it? Think about the time we used to visit our friend, or at least ring to say ‘happy birthday.’

On public transport we have always been pretty good at social distancing. You sit in the vacant seat that is furthest from other occupants. Then you proceed to dig out your phone (if you’re a teenager this takes all of one or two seconds) and stare blankly at the screen. You are in your own bubble. Total social distancing, body and mind.

The Chinese, they say, are good at joining other people’s tables in a cafĂ© or restaurant. We, on the other hand, will still search hard for that vacant table to avoid any potentially embarrassing encounter. If we do need to join with others because the establishment is crowded, we will very tentatively, very awkwardly ask if we can join that table and then proceed to keep our own company anyway.
This social distancing is terribly easy for many of us. We prefer to stay home rather than go to work, or walk to the shops, or drive to the market or the shopping centre or get our haircut. At home we have just ourselves or our partner and perhaps our own protective family. We like it when no-one knocks on the door. We have our phones at our disposal. We have our televisions and trillions of websites to explore on the internet. We can text ‘til our heart’s content and then as an alternative watch hours and hours of Netflix.

Many individual people and families have social distancing down pat. They have been doing it for years. When this virus blows over at last, many will feel the pinch. They will have to re-enter the social world they were partial members of before, but they will be dragged kicking and screaming.

We are finding more and more that we don’t have to go to workplaces anymore anyway. Thousands upon thousands of us will be working from home for the coming months. If we can do it successfully in a crisis, why can’t we be more efficient and do it all the time anyway. ‘Efficiency’ is a word government likes.
So, here’s my utopian vision of life after coronavirus. It’s like the pictures we have seen of life the moment WW1 or WW2 ends. Mass celebrations in the streets. Balloons and streamers and people crowding city streets and country squares. Parks filled with animals and children. Shrill cries of pleasure from little kids. Strangers smiling and shaking hands with each other. Friends and acquaintances warmly greeting each other. The world outdoors. Buses, trains and trams buzzing with conversation. Community gardens overflowing with food and flowers. Sporting ovals packed with people and food stands. Street parades, skywriters writing in the sky, ice-cream vans in suburban streets, coloured lollipops, men on stilts, festivals and fun-filled malls, caravan parks humming with families, people meeting new people at the hairdressers and at bars and in clubs.

When we can go back to normal, let’s not go back to normal. Let’s bury every form of social distancing, new and old. We can enter a new world of engagement and be like those soft-winged creatures at the Butterfly House at the Melbourne Zoo.

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