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.


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