26. SOCIAL DISTANCING VS PHYSICAL DISTANCING
How blindly we adopted a term that someone somewhere mooted to describe a very new situation, without questioning the underlying concept. Social distancing is the culprit. The term 'social distance' is usually measured by the amount of social contact between groups. So not measurement by metres but by the extent to which people from different social classes and groups enter into social bonds.
Get it right!
The correct term for the corona measure should therefore be physical distancing, since it can be expressed in metres. If a law is to be enacted that makes natural, social contact between people, ranging from sociability, cheering, dancing to hugging, an offence - one might even say almost a crime - then we have to get our terms right! In any case, to ensure that the intended physical distance between people does not lead to an increase in social distance!
My own experience during the corona pandemic has been that the physical distancing, whether externally imposed or self-imposed, has actually cut the social distance I experienced pre-pandemic. I reckon I have more social contact now, particularly with family and friends, because zooming, facetiming and whatsapping are the exclusive vehicles that afford 'travel' to any part of the globe. I'd go as far as to say that the physical distancing has brought me closer to my social circle(s). It's a real juxtaposition, a paradox almost. And yet it begs a question. What will it be like when this physical distancing is no longer necessary? Will my social contacts become more distanced? And will caution (the what if, you never can tell) get the better of hugs and kisses?
Imagining the world has stopped
We are going through, albeit coming to the end of, an interregnum where our social interactions have been shepherded into individual holding pens, and we've been there long enough to get a sense of safety - that is, if you're a survivor. Like a prisoner that cannot adjust to life on the outside, there will be some corona survivors who might find difficulty in adjusting to the new-found freedom, and actually fear physical proximity. They might shy away from social proximity and enter into a twilight zone, caught between physical distancing and social distancing. We all know about urban anonymity, the loneliness of the individual in a city of many millions where physical proximity can lead to people becoming socially severed, intentionally or otherwise. The lyrics come to mind: "I live in an apartment on the 99th floor of my block / And I sit at home looking out the window / Imagining the world has stopped." (The Rolling Stones, Get Off of My Cloud, 1965). But the pandemic has caused this sentiment to pervade far beyond the city: "I live in a suburban semi-detached / And I sit in my armchair looking out the window / Imagining the world has stopped." (Nobody in particular, 2021).
This is a case where incorrect labelling - the wrong word - prompted me to think about the past 15 months where our world - no person or place excepted - saw the science fiction apocalypse become a reality. And it's clear that when this nightmare is over, or at least fended off for the immediate future, we will enter a new world whose physical and social parameters we will have to re-learn.