Rethinking Normalcy During COVID19

By Vasanthi Subramonia Pillai

If your life had to be transformed into a dataset, would it look like time series data: with eating schedules, communication patterns to friends and families, assets acquired and liabilities incurred, mood switches and elements from your vision board? If I were to pick a few variables from this dataset and ask you how you would define your normal day using these indicators, how easy or difficult would that exercise be?
If I had to answer that question for myself, I would say that it would be extremely difficult for me to come up with a standard definition, because within a single month I could have at least five different types of normal days. The COVID19 pandemic has put so many things into perspective, especially what normalcy can mean. In behavioral science normalcy bias would simply mean the belief that things will remain the same, so when a friend says let’s catch up for coffee after all this is over and everything goes back to normal, the question is, will it ever be? Will your friend recognise you when you smile through a mask?
I am not a pessimist, I do want to believe that things will get better, however, I also believe the phrase “New Normal” that government bodies, workplaces and media so lavishly make use of, is to do with the present and not the future, because the future demands a different kind of normal, neither the pre-COVID19 normal nor the lockdown phase normal. This means video conferences between political representatives, work from home for those industries that can and news telecasted through zoom is a temporary reality but the future demands so many other transformations.

The pandemic has been a hammering reminder that this is not a fair world, and every kind of inequality puts some of us in a worse off position than the others, especially during a crisis like this. So many behavioral scientists mention that the habit formation during this period may not sustain after lockdown or things improve, because human beings are very adaptive in nature, which means we might go back to the way we were i.e. without social distancing/washing our hands too often. However, the post-pandemic normalcy is going to mean starting afresh for so many people and not merely restarting after a pause. The year 2020 began with protests and fights for justice by various communities across the globe for different causes, COVID19 may have physically suspended some of them, but the impact of COVID19 is a reflection of very similar questions. In an article by the world economic forum, Kate Whiting points out that although there have been two other disastrous flus in the 20th century, the tendency to skip that and compare COVID19 to the Spanish flu of the 18th century is strange. This is an important perspective because we don't know how well COVID19 will be remembered decades from now, the probability of remembering this pandemic may be influenced by the kind of transformations COVID19 might bring, in other words how our newer normal will look like. Poverty, racism, casteism, sexism are all as dangerous as COVID19, the world has to construct new definitions of normal along with the efforts of finding a vaccine, and this time making this definition more than just a singular narrative, because nothing about anything of this is even close to normal.