Looking to a New Normal: How the Pandemic Reshaped Our Lives
BY AVNI MISHRA '23
With the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines, lifting of mask mandates, removal of capacity limits, and re-opening of schools, we are now in the midst of returning to “normal.” After spending a seemingly endless year in quarantine, it’s safe to assume that even after several years, this “normal” will not be identical to the carefree lives we lived before 2020. While some expect our post-pandemic lives to mirror pre-pandemic times, the regulations and habits society has developed this past year will ensure that the new normal will more closely resemble our pandemic lifestyles, despite current frustration and criticism of this lifestyle.
For one, the most anticipated change is the return of social interactions outside of Zoom calls. We all long for sleepovers with our friends, spending quality time with our extended family, and meeting new people in public areas. Plans for movie releases in 2021 and upcoming sports seasons have us all aching to return to the theaters and sports stadiums we love. People want to feel comfortable again in indoor spaces—something we took for granted pre-pandemic.
Despite our excitement to experience these familiar moments, pandemic-era habits we’ve developed may become part of that return. Just as it is the social norm now, wearing masks and keeping a respectable distance between people will continue to be the standard. Even without explicit health guidelines and physical restrictions, many will still adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggestions that we’ve been using for the past year, even if it’s a subconscious action. With time, society will eventually forget these stigmas and practices, but for the next couple of years, they are likely to remain.
These habits will persist within the comforts of our homes as well. Over the course of quarantine, the internet’s prominence has grown rapidly, and its influence will continue dominating our lives. Younger generations who grew up around technology already recognize the capability of the internet (if our screen time is any indication). However, the growth of the internet has more profoundly impacted the older generation: our parents and grandparents have had to work from home and catch up with their friends over Zoom for the first time.
With the influx of at-home technology, working from home has taken over, and Zoom calls and shared online documents have proven to be surprisingly convenient and effective. These tools have connected people over greater distances, thus reducing travel time and eliminating parking trouble. According to Business News Daily, work productivity actually increased over the course of quarantine. As a result, employers may encourage employees to continue working from home for some time. People from across the country and even the globe can easily meet online, fostering a diversity of ideas and people in every workplace. For students, the convenience of online assignments reduces paper usage and eliminates the worry of leaving materials at home. Check-ins and meetings with teachers can be arranged on shorter notice, and the flexibility in scheduling makes finding a time to meet easy. Simply being in your home provides comfort and security that many don’t get at school.
Despite these numerous benefits, combining our home and working spaces can also harm mental health. With increased productivity, employees reported experiencing more burnout. Combined home and work spaces mean that you’re always at work, and some feel as if they lack an excuse not to work. For many, a concrete sign-out and commute back home signifies a satisfying end to a long day at their jobs. Without the distinct separation between work and home, it seems like the workday never ends, creating endless days and weeks until overworking and exhaustion.
Further, with the pandemic came an influx of skeptics. The viral videos of anti-maskers and conspiracy theorists demonstrate how some are eager to ignore the entire era of coronavirus completely. With renewed skepticism surrounding the vaccine brewing among these same people, their trust in safety guidelines and CDC recommendations continues to dwindle. If some had their doubts about vaccines and the health system before, the post-COVID era will certainly see an increase in anti-vaxxers and theorists alike. This trend will likely bring a unique set of challenges mirroring those we saw during this pandemic, with less-than-cooperative individuals exercising their beliefs at the expense of the health and safety of others.
However, these problems likely won’t cause an immediate compromise or return to the health-lenient and fully in-person society that we once considered normal. Overall, despite all the tragedies and losses caused by the virus, new options to improve our productivity and health opened up. During quarantine, social isolation was one of the largest problems many faced. As that slowly reduces, we can take full advantage of all the things we have learned and apply them to a new “normal” unlike anything history has ever seen before.