The Transformation of Human Interaction in The Age of Coronavirus

Figure 1 https://ncov2019.live/data [1]

Human Communication, Digital Alteration & the Coronavirus Disruption in Communication

INTRODUCTION

Before you begin to read below, compare the snapshot below to the numbers above. They were taken 36 hours apart. Once statistics from the USA start getting real, (at the moment reporting from the United States is not realistic), sadly these numbers will jump exponentially.

Unless you have been hiding in a bunker, it has been impossible to ignore that Coronavirus known scientifically as COVID-19,[2] has become the single greatest threat to humanity in our century. Hyperbole? Exaggeration? It depends where you live, how many people around you are in isolation, in the hospital, or sadly have died due to this virus. During modern times we have faced HIV and SARS. Still, Corona has managed to hide, assimilate and infect via human contact. Being within one to two meters of a carrier (and the individual may not even be aware they are a carrier) can infect anyone around. It is insidious and though not as deadly — yet — as the Spanish Flu outbreak. Though coronavirus is swiftly becoming our authentic answer to “The Walking Dead” scenario of humanity changing directions. Just to give us a baseline for expectancies of what a pandemic may entail:

“The 1918 influenza pandemic (January 1918 — December 1920; colloquially known as the Spanish flu) was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic, the first of the two pandemics involving H1N1 influenza virus, with the second being the swine flu in 2009. It infected 500 million people around the world, or about 27% of the then world population of between 1.8 and 1.9 billion, including people on isolated Pacific islands and in the Arctic. The death toll is estimated to have been anywhere from 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest epidemics in human history. Historical and epidemiological data are inadequate to identify with certainty the pandemic’s geographic origin.” [3]

As of March 11, 2020, the Coronavirus was declared a “pandemic” by the World Health Organization (WHO)[4]. Some countries around the globe (especially those in Asia), took decisive action to combat the swift spread of the virus. It seems, for the time being, they have been somewhat successful. Others sadly reacted in what one could only call a leisurely manner. It seems they believe a replication of the Spanish Flu, which ran rampant after World War I was a one-time event.

The country where I live, Israel, has been one of the fastest reacting countries to this pandemic. I watched and heard from many friends and colleagues who live in the United States and the United Kingdom, for the first critical weeks, view Corona as a wait-and-see game, virtually doing nothing to protect themselves until the stock market crashed. That one event finally forced action though it should not be astonishing given our modern social structure what the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in 24 hours can do to the mentality of people. Europe itself wanted to hide their heads, somehow ignoring the daily exponentially growing threat. At the time of writing this article, Italy and Spain have paid dearly for that mistake.

This article is neither about the science behind the Coronavirus nor is it about the psychological makeup of different societies, causing a prompt or sluggish reaction to a worldwide danger.

The Paradox & Irony

It is now against the law to have over ten people in one place together. It is against the law to have over two people in a car together. Public transportation will soon close down. The streets are empty. Workplaces have only employees who cannot work from home. Tens of thousands of people are confined to isolation in their homes due to possible contact with the coronavirus as governments attempt to halt its spread.

What has overwhelmed me about the Coronavirus and our reactions to it, is the irony being forced upon our world society whose effects might be felt for years within our digital age.

Over the past decade, psychologists, educators, parents have all taken great pains to warn us about the long-lasting effects of replacing social networking with human interaction. It has caused drastic changes in societal norms. Everything from business to personal relations underwent radical changes. Online-dating, communication, friendships made a flip from real to virtual.

Suddenly, coronavirus has flipped everything around. We are presented with a paradox. Virtual communication and relationships will become that much more critical in place of the limitations now imposed on actual human interaction. At the same time, and indeed viewed as a positive element, the family unit, the unit which has suffered so much during our modern digital revolution, will become central to our lives. We will be forced to communicate with those in our closest circles.

Coronavirus Directives

*If these do not exist in your country yet, they will be instituted soon. It is not a matter of “if” but “when.”

#1 Social Distancing

Coronavirus can be transmitted if you are within 1 to 2 meters (3 to 7 feet) of someone who is a carrier. Touching, such as handshaking or kissing is out of the question. This reality forces “social distancing.” An interesting concept simply because now it is becoming the accepted norm and no longer considered an abnormal personality trait. In simple terms, crowds have become a dangerous proposition. This effects public transportation, international travel, going to the mall, and merely shopping for food in a supermarket.

#2 Do Not Congregate in Large Groups

As a result of the need for social distancing, the logical outcome is laws that do not allow a large grouping of people. The prohibition against large groups, includes movies, sporting events, conferences, weddings, parties, conventions, etc. All these examples (and there are many more), are places where actual human interaction usually does take place.
Consider weddings and parties, just to visualize the effect upon these joyful occasions and all the businesses in the circle around them.

#3 Isolate Yourself as Much as Possible from Others

The apparent consequence of the two directives above is that isolation from others becomes critical. Isolation, no matter how one views it, is one of the worst possible scenarios for decent mental health. Yet coronavirus is forcing us into isolation, to which solutions must be found immediately.

#4 Communicate Electronically as Much as Possible

The ultimate paradox, considering all the advice psychologists have been giving over the past decade. Conventional wisdom and psychological well-being demand human interaction, personal communication, and congregating in groups. Now we are being asked to do the exact opposite. Distance from others, electronic communication (which can be intimate but also places a screen between the participants) and avoid any possibility of being in a crowd. The social and psychological consequences are long-lasting and will affect the very fiber of society.

#5 Education is Being Forced Out of The Physical Classroom

Technology has long been going in this direction. Not surprisingly, nor different for students. Learning new subjects or even adopting new careers is often done with on-line classes. However, physical classrooms, interactions between students and students with their educators are an essential part of education and social maturity. We have seen the consequences of those who are denied a normative growing experience. Without it, especially from nursery through the end of high school, the next generation will be socially impaired beyond any ability to reclaim normality.

#6 Closing of Business

Independent businesses whose entire success depends upon actual people are suffering or closed. Coffee shops, bars, gyms, public pools, and on and on it goes are closing voluntarily or are closed due to government orders.

#7 The Elderly, Infirm & Sick

Coronavirus has evil intentions for those over the age of sixty, (and by some early studies those above the age of fifty). This specific group is in dire danger from the virus. If they were not isolated enough in a society geared to the young, such isolation will be increased exponentially. Physical and mental health will deteriorate drastically. The health systems around the world, dealing with coronavirus, other diseases, and consequences of the above, are in immediate danger of imploding.

Coronavirus Transformations

#1 Financial Worries

Where I live, all the above directives have been put into effect. Every evening, depending upon the advance of coronavirus, the guidelines get more severe. I will repeat this. If you live in a country where these directives are not yet in effect, it is a matter of “when” not “if.”
The problem is financial. What about work? Or paying bills? Banks are affected even if you do everything online. Not everyone is rich. Most live from month to month or even week to week. They cannot afford to take off from work. Employers cannot afford to pay social benefits when their business is no longer viable. Yet, the biggest problem is if exposed at work to just one person who is a proven carrier, you will be placed in isolation for at least two weeks along with the rest of your office.
If the governments do not delay payments of tax, VAT, and all other payments; if the banks do not make far-reaching decisions on the payment of loans etc. there will be economic collapse. The shadows of this collapse are already foreseen from the massive stock market crash we have just witnessed.
A radical transformation must be made in this area, as France and Italy did. Other countries are moving towards this unavoidable decision.
Make no mistake. If governments do not take drastic and immediate action, healthy people will become sick simply because of the stress of meeting financial obligations no longer humanely possible. Just imagine the snowball caused by this.

#2 Psychological Effects

Being afraid of an invisible, insidious enemy can be unsettling for anyone, no matter how grounded they are. Being isolated can cause increased stress levels. Being unable to socialize beyond the computer screen can cause considerable disquiet to many. These psychological effects are real, and we must deal with them before they become dangerous.

#3 Personal Time & Dealing with Ourselves

We should all now be able to take that personal time to discover ourselves in a better way. Perhaps explore what we need, desire, and want. Return to simplicity, which is not such a terrible thing.
Perhaps in this new reality, you may discover a new way to support yourself and new business opportunities that never occurred to you before. Or maybe you can confront those demons inside and exorcise them.

#4 Family Time

Now is an excellent opportunity to take time for your family and actual communication between members of your immediate family. If you are all stuck in a house together due to the coronavirus, rediscover the family unit.

#5 Back to Basics

Computers, cellphones, tablets all allow for electronic communication. In many places, work can be done remotely. However, doing this out of force and doing it because you chose to is a distinct way of looking at things. Review the basics of your life. What is essential and what should be on the periphery. Go back to basics. It is an excellent exercise in mental stability.

#6 Culture of Personal Indulgence Will Be Altered

We are a society where personal indulgence has become a religion. Considering all the above, it is obvious the priorities and definitions of personal luxury will change. Products, services, and desires may make drastic alterations. Entering a new age where even a wedding no longer can have over ten people, changes perspective in ways undreamed of just two months ago.

#7 Friendships & Personal Relationships

As we all know, friendships can be digital. Now is the time to deepen those relationships and to make sure everyone you feel close to is doing well. Call them. Text them. Contact your friends in any way possible. Let no one feel isolated and alone. Show compassion and kindness. These are always essential qualities that take on greater importance during these times.

#8 Children — The Enormous Reversion

Finally, time to spend with the children, especially if you find yourselves confined within your homes. Do not waste it. Get to know your children again. Talk to them. Communicate. Understand. Be the parent you always wanted to be!

Global Implications

Make no mistake. Coronavirus has begun to cause a global transformation. It will cause us to view the world differently. Whether we do so positively or negatively is up to the way we react to it. Nations must work together to find an answer to this pandemic. As individuals, we are being forced on one hand to adopt those practices which for a generation we had complained about when our children lived online. Now we must embrace that exact form of communication. On the other side of the spectrum, we are challenged to reach deep inside ourselves and our family units to find the best version of ourselves and our loved ones.

Perhaps Mother Nature is making one of her most definite statements and sending us an essential message. Whatever you believe, please open your ears and listen to her. We can give in to fear, isolation, and inner turmoil. Or we can emerge from coronavirus, a better society, a more compassionate and kinder world. At the same time, humankind will only advance progress towards unforeseen goals.

About the Author

Ted Gross has and still works in the high-tech industry for over 30 years as a CTO and VP of R&D, team leader, and programmer. Ted’s original entry into programming was in the realm of databases, and he has always been fascinated by the patterns that data analysis can reveal. The path led to his current study of applying the principles of chaos theory to data analysis and work in other fields, including Machine Learning, Sentiment Analysis, Pattern Recognition, and Disruptive Innovation. His articles on various high-tech sciences and theories are published in professional technology journals. He also gives seminars and lectures on the above topics.

Ted was also an award-winning blogger and an author of several literary short stories and a collection of short stories, ‘Ancient Tales, Modern Legends.’ He has written for various journals in literature and comparative religions. Ted also publishes assorted pieces on LinkedIn & Medium, usually centered on multiple high-tech subjects.

Ted’s dream is to lecture and give seminars at university & post-university level for those genuinely interested in becoming innovative creators in technology. He also spends time secretly developing plans for a startup in creative arts where the nexus is disruptive technological innovation. Alas, as we all know, such endeavors require mass infusions of capital currently beyond his reach. Still, he intends to turn his dream into reality.

Endnotes

[1] Shiffmann A. Coronavirus Dashboard — nCoV2019.live [Internet]. Avi Schiffmann. [cited 2020 Mar 15]. Available from: https://ncov2019.live/data

[2] Wikipedia. Coronavirus Disease 2019 [Internet]. Wikipedia. 2020 [cited 2020 Mar 12]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coronavirusdisease_2019

[3] Wikipedia. Spanish Flu [Internet]. Wikipedia. 2020 [cited 2020 Mar 12]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_flu

[4] “As you know, yesterday I said that that the global COVID-19 outbreak can now be described as a pandemic.

“This is not a decision we took lightly.

“We have made this assessment for two main reasons: first, because of the speed and scale of transmission.

“Almost 125,000 cases have now been reported to WHO, from 118 countries and territories. In the past two weeks, the number of cases reported outside China has increased almost 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has almost tripled.

“The second reason is that despite our frequent warnings, we are deeply concerned that some countries are not approaching this threat with the level of political commitment needed to control it.

“Let me be clear: describing this as a pandemic does not mean that countries should give up. The idea that countries should shift from containment to mitigation is wrong and dangerous.

“On the contrary, we have to double down.

“This is a controllable pandemic. Countries that decide to give up on fundamental public health measures may end up with a larger problem, and a heavier burden on the health system that requires more severe measures to control.

“All countries must strike a fine balance between protecting health, preventing economic and social disruption, and respecting human rights.”

WHO Director-General’s Opening Remarks At The Mission Briefing On COVID-19–12 March 2020 [Internet]. World Health Organization. 20202–3–12 [cited 2020 Mar 12]. Available from: https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-mission-briefing-on-covid-19---12-march-2020

Works In & Writes About Technology. Futurist, Theorist, Technologist, Lecturer & Teacher. Still Dares To Dream.