The new normal: living in a COVID world

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Photo by Peter Burleigh

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, one term that has stuck out from the rest is the “new normal.” It’s everywhere, from the emails we receive to the television commercials we watch, but what is it really? What does it encompass? And, most importantly, is it a temporary adjustment or is it here to stay?

Two major components have been removed from human interaction. Physical contact is now taboo, and we can no longer pick up social cues from facial expressions because of mask-wearing. 

During my time in quarantine, time was rather fluid, with day drifting into night. Now, the way we interact with our fellow human beings has pushed us towards a comprehensive online environment. We are all sitting in front of laptops and slouching over our desks—which chiropractors and spine specialists have been claiming for years is unnatural—hunching our shoulders and damaging our backs.

For the last five months, most of the country was in full lockdown, with people stockpiling food and supplies to last them months.Then some places had partial reopenings, which in a few cases resulted in them closing once again. Social distancing and takeout food became the standards of operation. 

Which one of these was the new normal? Quarantine? Social distancing? Six feet apart with masks? Six feet apart without masks? 

You know how optometrists ask “which is better, one or two” as they flip the Iens? That’s what toggling between lockdown procedures felt like. One was awful and the other was only slightly better–but both might as well be the same. Is it the toggling back and forth that’s the new normal?

As much as I dislike our modern political climate, I don’t fault politicians as much as others might. This pandemic was unforeseeable, and most came into office expecting to get something extra for the people they represent, not to be forced to protect their elderly population from another flu-like virus. 

Is the new normal spending all your time and energy making sure your citizens are socially distanced and safe? Is it getting frustrated watching the news because your local government wouldn’t do what you wanted them to? 

In a similar manner to our new form of virtual interaction, the American workplace has been altered to compensate for the health crisis. If you can perform your job perfectly well from home during a pandemic, can’t you do just as well from home even when guidelines have been lifted? What will our workforce look like after COVID-19? 

On one hand, companies will save millions of dollars on maintaining enormous office buildings and will use less water and electricity. Workers will save money on gas, be safe from workplace violence and sexual harassment, and there may even be less inebriated drivers on the road after happy hour.   

On the other hand, companies are already relying on offshore workers to replace more expensive American laborers. If an American can work from home 500 miles away from headquarters, doesn’t job competition spread to an international level? 

Even the way we shop has been transformed into an industry dependent on a click of a button. At home, I saw an Amazon delivery truck as many as four times per day. We all knew about the decline of the American mall, but I don’t think anyone expected them to so suddenly be proven pointless. Returning items is as simple as can be, and can be shipped back to the store rather than returned personally. Our entire culture surrounding shopping, browsing and buying is unraveling at the seams in favor of convenience. 

Is that the new normal? If it is, it seems like it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, the new normal will most definitely have lasting effects. 

Culture will be traded for convenience and workplace environments will shift. This shift in culture is moving the way we socialize, educate and work towards a purely online platform. Our modes of operation are changing. Did COVID-19 force us into this new way of life, or did it merely accelerate what was already bound to happen?

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