A dystopian, fear-based, isolationist world

I’ve got many different opinions of the Issues associated with COVID-19, but this is not a piece about COVID-19. At least not yet. I will, in conclusion.

It’s a piece about what’s happened to society this year, because of the virus.

It’s Week 18 of Lockdown.

Not quite a lockdown here in Quebec anymore, but things have remained restricted.

A good friend of mine, Lauren, wrote on her Facebook wall, “you know what I miss? Smiling at complete strangers in the grocery store or just having a polite conversation with them because we are standing near each other. I hate how this is taking away decent, kind, human interaction.”

I had a conversation with my uncle about a bank teller he and my aunt had befriended over the years. She went the extra mile for my aunt recently, even though she is now the branch manager.

We talked about person-to-person interaction, and the relationships formed in our everyday life, based solely on regular contact with these people in all walks of life.

That conversation, along with my friend Lauren’s wistful post, got me to thinking about where we are as a society.

Offices have been closed since mid-March, with few or no plans to reopen. In fact, it is more likely that people who have learned to work from home will continue to do so. After all, if they have found ways around the normal activities done in office settings, why return to possible nests of infection, right?

Meetings take place via Skype or Zoom. Participants are dressed casually (or more formally from the waist up). Co-workers get the frequent treat of a cat or dog entering the shot, and conversation is diverted temporarily.

I’ve heard people say it has humanized their coworkers. I believe that now, that novelty has worn off and the very positive, important camaraderie found in workplace friendships is eroding before our eyes.

Printers are almost obsolete. There’s no need for office supplies or the various accoutrements that are found in any given office.

Buildings stand unused and unoccupied. There is no need for phone lines or receptionists, vending machines or coffee machines, photocopiers or faxes.

In fact, the only companies that are likely thriving are businesses that sell equipment for telecommunications.

Between online meetings, electronic signatures, emailed documents, and collaborative workspaces, even groceries delivered after online orders are placed, it’s a machine-driven world.

How many novels did we read not too long ago, in which human interaction was outmoded and the machines took over? That’s become a reality.

It isn’t like it was when the lockdown was in place. Back then, our city streets and highways were deserted. Now, we even experience traffic, but it isn’t like the type we’re used to seeing.

People do go shopping. I went to the mall the other day and dutifully followed the arrows on the floors (only because that was the way I was going anyway – the arrows have been nothing short of ridiculous; but that’s a piece for another day). Hand sanitizer (another industry that has boomed) was being doled out to the lines of people waiting for their turn. Stores are limiting the number of shoppers, so lines leading to the doors are long (caveat to anyone going shopping: if you want to go to the Apple store, go early or be prepared to wait a ludicrous amount of time).

My friend Lauren is right, though. There is no human interaction beyond the necessary. And now that Quebec’s premier has reversed his previous “I will not make masks mandatory” stance, it’s even more impersonal to go out where there are others.

Even before the mask mandate, grocery shopping was an exercise in Avoidance. People turned away from others approaching them, side-stepped possible contact, and lowered their eyes if they did happen upon someone in their 6-foot radius.

Children are also losing precious time

Let’s talk about kids now. Schools are closed, and there is no plan to reopen them yet. As an educator, and especially having taught pre-kindergarten students, I know how dire this situation is.

School is for learning, yes. But it is a vital component of citizenship. It is where kids learn – from very young ages – to socialize with people other than their family members. It is where kids learn to share. It is where they learn to separate from mom and dad even for a few hours a morning.

It is where they learn manners, protocols, safety, and basic concepts. It isn’t that parents do not teach their kids well, most do. It is that school is a place where structured learning takes place even in the seemingly unstructured melee of free play.

And there’s no question that children learn and behave differently among others than at home. They need that practice.

This is a component that is missing right now, and we are in danger of creating a society of frightened children. Frightened of non-family members, frightened of new experiences, frightened of new places, and frightened even of other children.

Social skills cannot be taught in a vacuum. Being home 24/7, with no play dates, no field trips, no playgrounds or other activities has already created a vacuum of Home Only.

Young children will have a harder time separating and adapting the longer they are isolated.

We have conveyed terror to our youth, even without saying the words.

Visual cues of masked people, deserted streets, social cues of getting together with others utterly absent, and warnings not to touch anything or anybody if there are outings have all combined to create an atmosphere of fear.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about today’s AtmosFear in regard to the language of Pandemic 2020. Kids hear it all. They listen, and they pick up on the words as well as the tones in which those words are spoken.

“Stay safe,” to a five-year-old, implies that somehow we are not safe. Kids have tremendous imaginations, and I cannot even begin to fathom what the constant warning of “masks save lives!” and “a second wave is going to happen!” means to those overactive minds without any context whatsoever.

Their moms and dads no longer go to work. They meet with talking heads on screens. They don’t go out on weekends, there are no more visits with grandparents (and if there are, hugging is verboten).

Society has become an electronically driven dystopia.

Here is where I do give my opinion about the virus.

When we didn’t know its properties, it was prudent for lockdowns and isolation.

We know more now, and we know who is vulnerable. Numbers are sharply declining. The proverbial curve has been flattened. Health care professionals are no longer working around the clock to save infected patients.

Take any other illness and compare it to this one. Context is crucial; we know who is at risk, how to protect them, and how to take precautions for ourselves.

The time for wearing precautionary masks is long gone; this graph shows where Quebec numbers peaked. Masks became mandatory four days after the last line. Anyone looking at this would wonder why masks weren’t mandatory when the lines were up at the 1,000 mark or beyond.

But now, not only are masks mandatory, people are threatening to call police if they see employees not wearing masks properly.

Masks have become the latest fashion accessory. Pop-up companies manufacturing masks in all different colors, styles, patterns, pop-culture related, sports-related are now all the rage. Those people are also raking in the big bucks as society blindly embraces this new article of clothing as necessary (to them) as underwear or pants.

I await the resumption of events in which invitations state “black tie and plain black masks only” as dress code. You know it’s coming. How could a society wedding take place if a guest is wearing her controversial politically themed mask?

I have always believed that the Internet connects us in ways we could not have had prior to its far-reaching capabilities. I have always felt – and continue to posit that this is a good thing.

I am, however, dismayed that it has become almost the sole form of contact we have with others.

People need those smiles. We need that person-to-person interaction.

It’s time to stop being afraid of a virus that has not proven to be the end of life, and ensure it does not prove to be the end of basic human contact in civilization as we have known it.

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