By Abhishek Hariharan
The fear of contagion has struck deep, and some things will perhaps never go back to the way they were. Here are some possible narratives and changing paradigms that could emerge in a post-COVID-19 world:
1. Performative Hygiene
As it turns out, it is age-old, basic and mundane practices like handwashing that are most effective in containing the virus. Everyone wants to do their bit to contain the spread and be acknowledged for doing so. At the height of the problem, those who were not following these practices were viewed with suspicion. Thus, there is as much value in signalling that one is hygienic as actually being so. This perception may be just as relevant even after the looming threat of the virus is long gone. So, we will see the emergence of conspicuous hygiene practices and products. One cannot imagine leaving home without one’s phone and wallet. A little vial of sanitizer and a face mask will now accompany them.
2. Touch Aversion
Shaking hands, exchanging hugs or kissing cheeks are the norm, be it for greeting an acquaintance for the first time or a close relative. Putting skin on skin through a handshake or cheek kiss will become less frequent and will be used selectively. For a whole in the future, most of us will have a little voice in our head that says the dreaded C-word every time we meet and greet someone, especially for the first time.
3. Fading of the taboo on mental health –
Typically, it is a daily routine and the sense of purpose a job provides that has seemed to have kept high-functioning people in good mental health. With these taken away, many are left confronting the reality of their feelings and moods. They are questioning their long-held belief that mental health problems are something ‘that happened to other people.’ Left with little by way of diversion, they are increasingly talking about it. Overcoming their prior hesitation in using words like ‘anxiety’ and ‘depression.’
4. Hyper-formation of habits –
Heavy smokers typically scoff at self-help books and cessation programmes that promise results in say 14 or 21 days. But due to the lockdown, many are willy-nilly following such a programme. The disruption of supplies and restrictions on movements mean that we don’t see our usual triggers and temptations. So, one may just have a better chance to give up or reduce alcohol, cigarettes and other hard-to-break addictions. Additionally, being cooped up at home means that there is a chance for a different set of behaviours to emerge. The lockdown may just turbocharge the giving up of old habits and addictions and catalyse the formation of new habits, family rituals and behaviours.
5. A Renewed Appreciation for Nature –
In just a few days following the enforced restrictions on human activity, we saw a spate of posts on a similar theme. These posts captured the flourishing and re-emergence of nature and the reduced pollution after such a relatively small drop in the intensity of human activity. These ranged from a clear blue sky, an encounter with a species thought to have long abandoned the urban jungle to the flourishing of a public green patch spared the unending trampling underfoot. Collectively and individually, more people will pay closer attention to the effect that they have on nature. The hope is that this awakening will continue well after the virus threat has passed and will lead to more sustainable practices.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have fundamentally changed the world we live in. These are initial hypotheses on some possible long-lasting changes that can be expected. Humans are creatures of habit and are notoriously biased towards the status quo. Some of these may happen quickly while others will take more time to play themselves out. As time passes, more such changes may emerge and will merit further analysis.
(Abhishek Hariharan is Vice President & Head of Strategic Planning at one of Sri Lanka’s premier brand communication agencies – MullenLowe Sri Lanka. Readers can send their feedback and responses to the writer to firstname.lastname@example.org)