It only took a few weeks for us to change our habits. We were able to adapt to a new routine and see as normal some practices we’d undertaken for a relatively short amount of time. We have learned to go with the flow, but all that we’ve gotten used to might become the backbone of the “next society”. We might be changing the world without even intending to – it’s just how things are going.
In an era where we were given more answers than questions, this translated into certainties, in a sense. That is, we were already given the path to follow as well as the steps to take. But are such answers still valid in our current circumstances? Although the final destination is supposedly still there, it looks like we have to walk off the beaten path. So, how are we facing the current challenges? We have dusted off some old strategies, adopted healthier practices, and reinvented our lives. Here’s how our unpredictable circumstances are molding our everyday actions.
Many countries, most of which are Western ones, had just banned (almost) all kinds of coverings. After a series of terrorist attacks occurred over the last decades, laws against facial coverings were issued. Surprisingly for “security reasons” some European nations, but also countries such as Tunisia, Canada and Sri Lanka, forced their citizens to show their faces when dealing with public services. The result being that Muslim women were hit the hardest by such laws.
Whether such decisions were really taken for security reasons or not, is still a matter of dispute. The debate on whether these laws were based on security assumptions or on religious discrimination is kept lively by the recent obligation of wearing a mask to try to confine the pandemic. Face coverings have become a symbol of safety and security ever since, leading governments to encourage their citizens to cover their faces.
When talking about hand sanitizers, nowadays everyone knows what this refers to, as all of us are now familiar with it. Dispensers are at the entrance of every shop and everyone always carries a little bottle with them. Among the dozens of existing brands, Purell and Amuchina play the biggest role. But are they new inventions? Not at all.
Amuchina was patented in the early 20’s by a 24-years-old Italian engineer, who after discovering the potentials of sodium hypochlorite, lost interest in his invention. Its benefits served us well in the 30’s, when tuberculosis hit worldwide. Sadly, after that, the product had a second ‘golden age’ in the second half of the century. In fact, some Southern Italian regions were hit by the cholera in the 70’s, which boosted the use of the Amuchina even further. So, by the end of the century, it started appearing in households, as well. At this stage though, it was mainly used to sanitize water, food, and hospital equipment.
The history of Purell is completely different. The inventors were Jeffrey Lippman and his wife, Goldie, who worked in a factory. Contrary to Amuchina, the American product was invented with a purpose; an attempt to provide Goldie’s coworkers with a gentler product than the one they were using to remove black, smoke stains from their hands. The initial manufacturing process was amateurish, as the couple experimented several solutions in a domestic environment, by using domestic equipment. However, the hand sanitizer Purell, became a reality and its success increased steadily ever since. This was especially after the 2009 swine flu pandemic.
Non-verbal communication has always been part of a country’s identity, to the point that some gestures have even become cultural marks. We have become aware of its potential, and we have learnt how to read messages delivered through the body. However, non-verbal communication has always played a subordinate role. At least until now.
Communication might be perceived as a natural phenomenon, but it is a complex and structured task instead. It is verbal and non-verbal communication together, although this last one has always been at the edge of this structure. But now, since people began to cover their mouth, and part of their face, body language has been considered essential for effective communication to be passed on. It has been given a new and relevant importance. Far from being just an ancillary tool, it is key instead, and we’re supposed to be able to master it.
You don’t want to come across stressful interactions, do you? How is it possible to interpret signs behind a mask, though? And then, how can we pass on a smile or a frown? As a rule of thumb, we should pay more attention to the person we’re speaking with and stay more focused on the ongoing conversation. This is just the first point. Some tips also include a calm and positive attitude, in order to avoid adverse feelings such as frustration or impatience.
People all over the world have turned to baked goods during the pandemic lockdown. In Europe, the population’s temporary behavior has shown its effects on social media and on the shelves at the grocery stores. And in some cases, on their economic sales strategy as well. In fact, on the one hand social media has served as a window for showing hand-made, baked food. What’s more, comments about cooking time and little tricks to get the perfect texture have filled up our social pages. On the other hand, grocery stores have run out of primary ingredients overnight, especially flour and yeast. It took a while for the stores departments to fill up again… and for prices to be ‘adjusted’. And even then, this trend went on. People realized just how rewarding it can be to make some baked food themselves and – who knew? – knead the dough.
Psychologists and culinary experts gave a prompt response to that. Bread provides us with a sense of comfort. It brings us back to the days when families were so poor that they had nothing to cook with but flour or when our grandmothers gave us a piece of warm bread as a ‘snack’. Bread has always been associated with a familiar environment, made of those little things that give us a sense of security. As humble as it may be, the family is an anchor to a child, and so are baked products: they are made of few, simple ingredients, but they feed with their mild and warm taste. From a more scientific point of view carbohydrates, in general, boost serotonin production that makes us feel happier. That’s why these are some of the foods we turn to in hard times.
How many of you have decided to not procrastinate anymore? During the Covid period, many people have decided to leave their comfort zone. For whatever reason, many of those who had been tentative to try and take up a new career, a new sport, a new DIY hobby, or even a new lifestyle, have taken advantage of the current (and long lasting), stay-at-home situation to finally dive into new experiences. Or rediscover old ones.
Aside from some gender and age-related differences, some activities were more successful across the board in most countries. For instance, people turning to activities such as cooking, reading, playing video games, or learning did so in many countries. However, there are noticeable differences in numbers when it comes to certain activities and when considering certain gender and age groups. For instance, in Spain, working out has increased for 36% of the population aged 18-35 and 25% of Spanish people are focused on self-development. In Italy, green-thumb newbies account for 7% of the population, 39% of whom are now practicing gardening regularly. However, gardening attracts many in the UK as well. Here, more than 50% of British women aged 35-44 have taken up a new hobby, among which are gardening, fine arts, and learning a new language; which demonstrates that learning has played an important part within “pastimes”. Regarding learning a new skill, it has been noticed that there has been a stunning increase of people who have picked up a new language in the UK since the pandemic started, while learning even less popular languages.
The digital switch
Our relationship with digital technology and the internet has dramatically changed. This is true no matter what the generation, young people and seniors being affected the most. For both populations, the use of the internet has increased and they’ve become more familiar with digital contents, but some differences are worth highlighting.
First younger generations, in particular school-aged children and teenagers, have not undergone a real digital switch, as they were already used to digital devices. Second the change here is not primarily concerning the ‘quantity of time’, but rather the ‘quality of time’, spent on the internet which is related to their internet activities. Although the former has changed as well (in fact by adding screen time), the latter has been particularly affected, as online activities have replaced those once carried out face-to-face. Thus, teens continue spending their time as they did pre-pandemic – especially on social media – but now they use technology also for their schooling programs, to attend online lessons, and to keep in touch with friends and peers. Third, while adults often warned them about internet-related issues, now young people have been asked to make more and more use of digital devices. The trend is thus reversed compared to the pre-pandemic period.
The other highly affected group of people is seniors, that is, people 60 years or older. Before going into more detail, it is important to think of seniors as a non-homogeneous group, “they” being part of different ‘sub-segments’. Generally speaking though, not only did they turn digital in a few months, but they also experienced – in some cases, for the first time ever- a variety of online services and entertainment. For some, especially for the ‘young-old seniors’ aged 65-75, the switch has been more gradual due to the digital habits they had before the pandemic. For others, especially among people over 75, it has been a radical change. Moreover, only a smaller portion of them has gone digital, thus leaving behind most seniors over 70, in spite of inclusive initiatives conducted by some countries.
Since this article is written in English, I would like to comment in English: The world has certainly changed a lot over the last 15 months. Europeans felt reasonably safe in the beginning. China was a long way off, thus not being considered a real threat to Europeans. How things changed! I belong to the ‘young-old seniors’ at 72 years of age. Fortunately for me, being a teacher, I never felt left behind and took an interest in politics, health issues and so on. It was my desire to be fully informed. Like most people, fortunately I would say, we could never have foreseen the damage caused by this pandemia. I found Vanessa’s article compelling and wide-ranging and very much to the point.
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