How is the COVID-19 Pandemic Changing the Way People Relate?
Time and Space
In this time of global pandemic, time and space are being handled differently. Because there is no commuting, there is a sudden credit in our time deposit…but our space is also sharply constrained. On one hand, with the “extra time” we have been granted, most of us are spending more time (voluntarily and also involuntarily) with family both near and far; family is essential to us. On the other hand, because our space is being limited, the intense shared space can cause conflicts.
The limitations on space have also confused the boundaries between work and leisure time, when everything happens in the same house. We commonly experience working even longer hours, when “home is at work” or “work is at home”. The borderline between home and work has become blurred.
In a conference scenario, the “same time, same place” changes in pandemic time from common time and place to one’s own same place and time…the only same thing we all share, is indeed the Zoom screen.
Technologies of Communication
Technology has jumped in as a “saviour” for everyone; without it, we would not know how to stay in contact with those who are not living with us, how to maintain community like church, or how to maintain work efficiency at home. Technologies give a glimpse of hope to those who live alone and those who have never used technology before to stay in touch with others. I truly admire the elderly in my church, who obviously have not used social technology before and do not feel comfortable using it, but still step out of their comfort zone to try the strange technology and remain in good contact with the church community virtually. The generation gap is suddenly pulled closer.
Technology also creates opportunities for those who normally cannot physically join the gathering, but can now join virtually from the other side of the globe.
Expression of Affections
The affection we used to show towards each other was mostly through touching - like a handshake, hugs, slapped shoulders and kisses. In pandemic time, we need to use our body differently to express affection in an alternative way, like waving a “hi”, blowing our kisses or showing a hug gesture from a distance…because we still want to show our affections towards those we love.
This pandemic time has suddenly taken away what we have taken for granted. We used to work in the same office, but because of our lack of willingness to perhaps talk to and care for others - though we were in the same space - we were all alone at our desks. When we are now forced to work separately at home, some of us have realised that cooperation and communication with others is essential and require everyone’s effort and willingness.
No matter whether it’s in a business or casual context, previously we often shared meals together and considered this time one of fellowship with one another. This is strictly suspended in pandemic time. And we shall all reflect, why has sharing a meal always been such a core part of our social life? How does a shared meal open us up to each other?
Christians practise communion together to remember the sacrifice of Jesus and we sing worship songs together; these are our shared embodied experiences. In pandemic time, we do these rituals virtually together, though the communion is not served by others but by oneself; and we cannot hear the others’ singing. The feeling of togetherness is definitely missing. But our shared experiences remind us how it was, and while in the meantime we do it virtually together but alone at home, in our mind, we remember how it should be. Our shared memories bind us as a community and with a hope that we will resume that traditional practice again soon.
Our collective memories as a nation are getting stronger as we all pay attention to the same news - COVID-19. The government also acts - at least in Western Europe - in a more integrated way. The feeling of unity is suddenly felt much more strongly, as we have a common problem to solve. Though some governments might fail to react to the crisis with integrity, people in our society are helping each other, finding resources and supporting one another to get through the crisis together. COVID-19 is a crisis one cannot solve or fight alone; it is a common battle for us humans to fight against.
By Shuk Ling Chan from the Cultural Influencers Group, May 2020