If there’s anything that the hysteria, panic and scamming around the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus has taught us (and will continue to do so in the unforeseeable future), it’s that a pandemic brings out the worst in us. And it’s not just about hoarding toilet paper, believing in cow-piss “cures”, or using COVID-19 to be openly racist (as opposed to indulging in it covertly earlier). The disease has brought out the worst in us because, let’s face it, those who are panicking will want to out-survive the others—with or without the cow-piss. Which is why, amid the many, many problematic and hyper-vigilant things people are doing to manage their anxieties, I have embraced only one: Social distancing.
As an introvert (who can be an ambivert at best), it seems ridiculous that the marvels of social distancing are only getting recognised in the face of a global epidemic. Over the last few days, this term has taken over our social media and news feeds as one of the most important measures suggested by experts, and as evidenced by the cancelled events, conferences, gigs and sports tournaments, hilarious introvert memes and jokes, and even the #StayTheFuckHome movement. In the US, #SocialDistancing was trending at an all-time high on Google Trends last week (in India, the tool throws up trending results from states like Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu). “Cancel everything,” says a headline, which just happens to be my personal motto in life.
Experts define social distancing as a series of measures to increase physical space between people to slow down the spread of virus. I define it as a series of measures to increase physical space between people. That’s it. That’s the beauty of it. And even as highly social people roll their eyes (just the way my editor is doing right now) at all the introverts around the world quietly rejoicing this new memo, this alteration of social life is not that difficult, or even that bad.
First things first. Social distancing doesn’t mean complete isolation—that is, it’s not as drastic as self-quarantine and isolation that people suspected to carry the virus have to do. As a practising introvert, I can assure you that our kind derives no joys in zero social contact. We just don’t like too much of it. What’s too much, you ask? Think of crowded restaurants, bars, house scenes with more than 2-3 people, market areas, malls, public transport, parties, weddings or community events. Oh wait, these are also the places epidemiologists warn you against as hotbeds of a highly infectious epidemic like COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, in fact, has taken note of implementing social distancing keeping in mind the size of the community, the population density, access to health care and the local situation. So when you live in an overcrowded city with failing civic infrastructure like mine, you may want to pay heed to this.
This is also a good time to see how desensitised we have become to the many basic faults of overcrowding—like living with flatmates or family with no boundaries, or having a stranger cough in your direction without covering their mouth, or have a fellow passenger’s sweat trickle down on you during a hot and humid commute in a Mumbai local train (yes, that has happened to me). And while triggering anxiety or OCD can be an extreme end of the scare that coronavirus has led to, the good thing is that social distancing can make you hyper aware of the different ways our personal space is invaded on a daily basis. So yeah, you people can enjoy finally discovering the joys of social etiquette and decorum. It really takes an epidemic, doesn’t it?
Secondly, as a critic of “compulsive socialising” (which an exhausted Redditer defines as “socially deprived and socially tired at the same time”), I see social distancing as a breather for people plagued with social-media induced anxieties. Ours is the generation with acute loneliness and mental health issues, despite being so well-networked and constantly surrounded by people. So while social distancing may not entirely affect behaviour constructed purely for social media validation (and this is where people who ironically bombard their social media with JOMO—or the Joy of Missing Out—come to mind), it will certainly keep this pressure off of a few.
Lastly, many editorials argue that my kind (I promise, this is the last time I’m calling it that) has been “inadvertently training to fight coronavirus for years”—and that we could potentially be ready for the next pandemic. Which is kind of true, because cancelling plans and avoiding people is essentially how introverts feel comfortable, perhaps even excited. I have personally told a dinner party that I was “on my way”, when I was actually snugly under the covers, ready to sleep at 10.30 PM with my phone on flight mode. I have also pretended to be my mother on the phone when my friend called to confirm a plan, only to tell her that her daughter can’t go out because of a family commitment (she believed me). Once, I travelled to the other end of the city because a close friend’s band was performing; I said hi to him and then bounced (though he still thinks I was hanging at the back of the crowd at his gig).
I can think of hundreds of “flaking” incidents (as will my unsuspecting victims, who are reading this), all of which have given me great joys and no FOMO. My home is my sacred shrine of face masks, moody lighting, comfort food, lots of tea, and endless online shows. I can now finally come out with it, with very little shame and more “HAH, this is okay now! You can’t feel bad!” The world will finally get it. They really will.
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