I was in a local mall this week. It has been seven months and a few days since the lockdown. Two things made me anxious: the long line to the parking area inside the mall and the big crowd in the mall itself. It was also the first time for me to see all gathered in one roof men and women wearing face mask and face shield as if it was the most regular thing to do in this planet.
In March, I thought this virus would fly off into the distant horizon and vanish by the middle of summer. But nothing of that sort happened. What followed was the formation of a new fitted with new rules and new conditions.
A catch-all phrase was coined – “new normal” – and we all latched onto it.
We felt isolated in the first months of the lockdown but technologies connected us, or so we think, to each other. By connection though, it does not mean the regular, human connection. Technologies allowed us to talk to each other; the same devices caused us to talk past each other.
Online, we develop personalities and characters. The characteristics of these virtual personas are varied. There are those who have comments for every issue. And they are not merely comments but acerbic remarks as if any word from another person deserves a snap from another person, usually one who believes he or she has the last word. There are many who forget the rule of brevity; these are individuals who shamelessly post (without warning) 20-paragraph meditation on any flora or fauna on this planet.
The world, in other words, went terribly online as soon as the earthlings realized the virus was not going anywhere.
Classes were held online. Classrooms died. The erasers and pieces of chalk disappeared. The university in all its medieval aspect of the wellspring of knowledge got threatened and surrendered. The Internet became the better tutor; Wikipedia turned into the default source of facts and, well, fiction.
Teachers were required to understand laptops and Internet. Module became a common word. The concept started to face real challenges: are we meeting in real time and space on in one that is, by virtue, virtual? Time was either synchronous or asynchronous.
It makes me shiver to know how in this age of pandemic, the first victims were the most basic context of our personhood: time and space.
The ideal world was online. Mark the word “ideal,” for in our societies, there are many – more significantly numerous than us reading this essay – who are not connected online.
More than ever, the isolation caused by the pandemic underscores one fact: when we talk about the new normal, we are only talking about a small percentage of the country’s population. Out there in the farms and villages live fathers and mothers who have neither touched nor seen a laptop. Out there are children who will not be in awe of the interminable facts we can get from the Internet. Out there are children who, in fact, are not in schools.
There are numerous cluster of sitios where the word “online” does not exist or, if it has been heard, has no meaning at all. There are countless sites where masks are not worn because people have no money to buy them.
It has been seven months and a few days, and some of us have survived the first wave of the afflictions brought about by the virus. It is from these “survivors” that we can get new contributions from the human group.
One of these lines of survival is the rekindling of our connection to Nature. The most blatant indicator of this is the birth of the so-called “plantitos” and “plantitas.” The “tito” or “tita” in the term speaks of the origin of this new hobby – the middle class.
What does it entail to be a plantito or a plantita? Time, lots of time in one’s hand to putter about in a garden of one’s making. S/he, to be linked to plants, must know the names of any plant s/he takes care of. Take note now no one talks of “green thumb” anymore. The new dispensation does not require that one must be adept in the area of planting. Just own the name and the rest of the leaves will follow.
Another survivor moment in this age of Covid-19 is the birth of experts. We can all be experts in the age of webinars. Everybody is an expert. With geographies and boundaries breached by the might of the online, all academic engagements can be inter-national. We are all international experts.
And yet, as October goes, we will face another reckoning: all cemeteries and memorial parks will be closed to human traffic. In the pandemic, mourning or showing our love to those who had gone earlier, is dangerous.
Shall the souls manifest themselves online as well?