Imagining the New Normal.

My wife is annoyed at the phrase “new normal.” She sees it as an unnecessary concession to the virus. She’s taking it one day at a time, she says, and hasn’t given up hope that the Old Normal (which is just plain normal if you don’t allow New Normal in your vocabulary) will come back more or less intact.

Even as restaurants and salons reopen in certain parts of the country, with much of the social distancing still in place, we’re beginning to see that, as a recent AP story emphasized, “ this virus may never go away . . . it may become just another endemic virus.” The term “new normal” suggests that the regimen of social distancing– Zooming instead of hugging and hanging out , wearing masks, etc–should not be seen as a temporary inconvenience, an abnormality, but as the way things are going to be from now on, a new way of life.

It’s not hard to imagine a New Normal including some of the following features. One good guess is that as a result of this virus for the forseeable future we will be a cleaner people—hands of course, but other parts as well. We will probably, in watching old “Frasier” re-runs, see Niles Crane’s fastidious wiping down of his chair at the coffee house as a little less nerdy and more simply sensible.

Social media and other “screen” life has been a dominant feature of normal life for years. But also a part of normal has been criticism of it for removing us—and our kids–from real contact with each other. (People sitting at a restaurant relating to their phones instead of each other.) In these weeks of being confined to quarters, “screens” have become no longer a addictive indulgence but our salvation. Really: try—especially parents– to imagine these past weeks without screens. And the old downside of it—the distancing from each other—has been established as its killer app. So it seems probable that in a future in which we feel more vulnerable to Covid-19 and other diseases, resistance to screens will die out and we will resign ourselves to the dominance of social media as the New Normal for the human future.

How tacky, it may come to seem in the New Normal of masks, was revealing the bottom half of your face in public. The mouth, that font of germs as well as pleasure, may become another body part to keep concealed from most others, its baring a special and intimate occasion. Eyes as the window to the soul will carry a much bigger burden of expressing ourselves to others. New, creative eye makeup will be forthcoming.

The traditional, heartfelt pressing of the flesh has been on the way out for decades, in favor of all sorts of strange gyrations, so it’s not hard to imagine that this virus is its death knell and that it will be replaced by the elbow bump, which will in the New Normal no longer be seen as a jokey substitute.

A big metric for sociologists is the comfortable distance people of a given society feel in conversation (Italy’s closer than ours, I believe I’ve read .) We can probably expect that number to be increased as a result of habitual physical distancing

Remember, we may be saying in that not too distant future, when the highways were clogged with people actually going physically to work–all that waste of gas and time, all that pollution, all so you can risk infection in the office pool and have the boss looking over your shoulder?

Will the New Normal include a significant desertion of cities for the country, a natural reaction to urban hotspots, especially since virus-minded cities may not safely be able to provide all the typical urban pleasures (concerts, restaurants, museums) that were in the Old Normal the reason for putting up with the cost and inconvenience of living there?

911 had a big before/after effect. It seems likely that the virus will have an even more marked one. And that the main effect of this period of wary, distanced, less fully embodied existence will be to hasten our slide down the slippery slope toward the “transhuman” future we hear talked about, when we either merge with AI or are superceded by it– the end of the human era.

Covid-19: re-learning risk tolerance

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Does FDR’s famous Depression Era pep talk apply to our present situation? Well not entirely of course. We have the virus itself to fear. The curve may have peaked in some places, but the numbers of cases and of deaths are still rising. It still feels like […]

Getting Biden’s Appeal

So (if one may take a moment out from the nonstop conversation about the virus) it’s come down for Democrats to Biden, our lowest-common- denominator candidate. A lot of us are having to deal with our disappointment. Really? From that attractive, smart, gender and racially diverse field of candidates? This sameold, white male is to […]

Finding out what we can’t (or don’t want) to live without

Buddhists say that all suffering in life comes from attachment—to whatever it is you’re attached to . The remedy is non-attachment. Hard to argue with that: get dependent on something and you could lose it and suffer withdrawal. The way we are discouraging the spread of COVID-19 deprives us of many things that we are […]

Life vs. quality of life and other considerations

Like everybody else I know I have for several days been doing what we’ve been told to do : social distancing, washing our hands, doing our bit to “flatten the curve,” as we’ve learned to think of it. Every surface you come in contact with (of which it turns out the world has a lot) […]

The coronavirus vs. flu-as-usual

 [Note: this was written on Sunday, March 8th, four days before it appeared in the paper. It was of course–the tone and substance–immediately out-of-date.] If the world has had a hard time getting sufficiently exercised about imminent climate disaster to do much of anything about it, not so about coronavirus. As I write, panic seems […]

Democrats’ winning issue is defeating the danger of Trump

“Dems in disarray” is the theme since the Iowa debacle. (If they cant run their own nominating process, how can they run the country?) And now the puzzling NH results: The most progressive candidate wins but the more centrist candidates taken together get twice as many votes. How are we supposed to read that? And […]

Burgers are not the cause of climate change

Impossible Burger’s CEO says cows are the cause of climate change and is aiming to reverse it by getting rid of all cows by 2035. His plan is to satisfy the world’s considerable appetite for cooked cow with a fake version of the same thing. But he’s wrong about the cause of climate change. The […]

We should see affordable housing as an opportunity for architecture

Affordable housing is more talked about than actually accomplished in Wellfleet. With under two percent of our housing stock affordable, we lag far behind most towns on the Cape in meeting the state mandated ten percent. The possibility of making a big improvement in this situation was the subject of a Community Forum on a […]

We need a Manifesto.for a Human Future

The End of the Human Era is nigh. Or so we are told by what seems like a consensus of those who have done the most thinking about where the trajectory of AI is headed. We should know the story by now: as soon as only a generation away AI, that product of human intelligence, […]