Why can’t we try to make the New Normal an improvement on the Old Normal?
Nobody likes change. We’re hardwired to be creatures of habit, and even when we adopt new technology we immediately expect it to remain exactly as it was – look at the predictable howls of fury whenever a website changes its design, an operating system is updated or social media sites tweak their functions. The familiar is comforting, which is why we all stick on Facebook and Twitter – even though we hate them – when new alternatives come along (well, that and the unfortunate habit of new social media sites to become cesspools almost overnight).
But we live in extraordinary, and in many ways unprecedented times – sure, there have been pandemics before, but never in the ‘modern world’. Never where communication and miscommunication were so global and instant. And so there is an understandable fear that this will somehow change everything, and an equally understandable need from many to return, as quickly as possible, back to normal. The Old Normal, that is. The one constant between all sides of the Covid cultural divide has been a desperation to go back to exactly how we were at the start of the year, with nothing changed at all. There’s a certain desperation to cling to normality, yet all this does is emphasise just how much things are different. As I type, a half-baked version of the London Marathon is taking place because the thinking is that by running some shonky version of the event, it maintains a sense of normality, reassuring people that things will be just the same once all this has washed over – indeed, are just the same now. Sporting events played in empty stadiums – complete with fake crowd noise – and ‘virtual gigs’ with bands broadcasting live shows to a YouTube audience seem equally desperate attempts at pretending that life is going on as normal, even though each of these events really just amplifies how far that is from the truth – nothing hammers home the abnormality of the current world more than seeing public spectacles being carried out in empty venues. The entire pandemic has been a case of people doing their very best to carry on with at least an approximation of what used to be normality. It’s understandable and to a degree admirable – a Blitz spirit of keeping calm and carrying on, not letting these extraordinary circumstances change our way of life.
But here’s a radical thought. maybe we don’t want everything to go back to the Old Normal. Maybe there are some better ways of doing the things that we’ve done, ways that might not have been possible without someone applying the breaks and giving us breathing space. The first six months of the Covid Age haven’t really done that but if we do get a second or even third wave that forces an even more severe lockdown – and no one is discounting that possibility – then perhaps we can make lemonade from the pandemic lemons, and use the downtime to think outside the box and consider the possibility of a radical reboot.
After all, much of what we do in day to day life is done because that is how it has always been done, not because it is necessarily the best way of doing things. We cling to systems and methods and ideas that sometimes predate the industrial revolution, let alone the technological and digital ones. We do that because overhauling those systems would be a huge undertaking, and possibly painful and beyond the pale of anything beyond the most radical blue-sky thinking. But now, these things are not just possible, they might become essential.
I understand that not everything can change for the better – and that not every change is for the better. It’s very possible that we would look at seemingly outdated ways of doing things and realise that, however flawed, it is still the best option. But maybe not. To simply, blindly and bloodymindedly insist that everything returns to exactly how it was, without acknowledging that some things could be better is to simply be a Luddite, desperately holding back the future at all costs. Change is scary, yes – but just as those social media site tweaks quite often actually improve the user experience once we get used to them, so the New Normal doesn’t have to be entirely negative, and could offer some opportunities for liberation and reinvention. Everything we now think of as an unchangeable, traditional part of life was new and scary once, don’t forget. And after all – was the Old Normal really so perfect that we can’t imagine improving on it at all?