Alex Wecht ’24
The rampaging coronavirus pandemic has affected every society across the globe. From city-wide shutdowns to mandatory quarantines, to travel bans, to school closures, and everything in-between. But how have these effects led to larger cultural transformations?
Over the past year, the pandemic has forced, and will continue to force, technological advances that will increase efficiency not only now but over the long term. Work-from-home. Videoconferencing. Telemedicine. Internet-ordered delivery of goods and services. And on and on. Many people in our society have come to realize that, with advanced communication tools, they can do more from home than they previously did in an office, and without the time and expense of a commute. Opportunities to share interdisciplinary skills have increased, as we have gained time and greater ability to connect with others remotely.
There are, of course, some downsides to this. For example, this “remoting-in” phenomenon may well lead to a culture of homebodies. Isolation is not a uniformly good thing. As humans, we crave interaction and we benefit from it in many different ways. Many folks have said that they will continue to use grocery delivery services instead of actually going to the store themselves. What are the implications and costs of this? These remain to be seen, but we can speculate that some human interactions may diminish, particularly the likelihood of chance encounters and serendipity.
On a similar note, strict health guidelines and restrictions have made an already stressful undergraduate existence even more stressful. In fact, surveys have indicated that three out of four college-aged individuals have experienced worsened mental health due to the pandemic. Many students have found it very difficult to adapt to these health guidelines and lifestyle restrictions and have experienced profound culture shock. A regrettable proportion of students have been disoriented by the culture on campus, by the way their every move seems to be policed, and by the general lack of freedom. As a result, many students have decided to leave campus and either complete classes remotely or take gap semesters.
One positive result of the prolonged “alone time” – something that many of us have been grateful for – has been the opportunity to reach out and talk with old friends. I spoke with my grandfather to learn how someone with almost nine decades of life experience views the situation. He expressed to me that, since the beginning of the virus, he has been in closer contact with many friends, and especially with several friends that he hadn’t spoken to in a few years. I found this interesting, particularly since my grandfather still works seven days a week, and typically doesn’t have endless free time to socialize. It seems as though this is a product of us having more time to step back and reflect. I believe that this extra communication with friends is something that will continue when life goes back to normal.
On that same note, this phenomenon has led us to appreciate in-person activities far more than we did before the pandemic. Family time, friendships, and personal relationships have taken on greater importance for us. When you are deprived of something for prolonged periods of time, and when you feel the withdrawal-like symptoms that ensue from reduced social exchanges, you learn a lot about the particular roles that those things play in your life.
Moreover, beyond the explicit cultural changes, there are implicit values and behaviors we all have perceived. For many of us have noticed that the time which we spend together is of a higher quality than it was beforehand. We felt a hint of this even at the earliest stages of the virus “shutdown.” Even then, we agreed that this pandemic would make us appreciate the little things more, the things we had always taken for granted. We were right, and the culture we share has changed for the better. Overall, this year of living in our COVID-19 world have allowed us to learn more about what is truly important to us in life.