Man's now a distantly social animal

Updated: Apr 01, 2020, 11:05 IST | Mayank Shekhar | Mumbai

How is a lockdown, even if mandated by the state, any different from what we do with ourselves every day, anyway?

No matter how much of a misanthrope or socially awkward you are, is it possible for someone to remain permanently in a state of social-distance? Pic/Istock
No matter how much of a misanthrope or socially awkward you are, is it possible for someone to remain permanently in a state of social-distance? Pic/Istock

Mayank ShekharFew drinks down, to use popular 'Americanese', I identify myself as an extrovert. Anybody who's known me sober for long (and therefore, usually quiet, dead-boring), will vehemently disagree with my personal identification. What does that make me? Just like you, an ambivert. By turns introvert and extrovert — depending on time, place or location, and company.

No matter how much of a misanthrope or socially awkward you are, is it possible for someone to remain permanently in a state of social-distance, which effectively means being physically secluded from other humans, even if socially in touch? Whether or not it is temporarily mandated by the state, as precaution against a transmitting virus? Let's see.

Where do we unconditionally meet on a daily basis? At work. What you do for work determines, first, your class. Ones who use their hands generally form the lowest/working class. This lot, much like the hunting-gathering Early Man, usually can't see through any task, without the physical, bodily help of several others. No, they simply cannot survive a lockdown; period.

Roughly at the stratum right above this class emerge 'managers' — who identify themselves with a ball-point/ink pen, conspicuously placed in the breast pocket of their plain/checked bush shirt. This is the starting point of the middle class, leading all the way up to the industrial elite.

The act of working for this socio-economic class is equated, for the most part, with sending and receiving files/emails. Let's be fair, I don't even do phone calls, finding human voice as far too intrusive on a workday: "Can you just text/WhatsApp please, will get back!" And, no, there isn't so much you can accomplish in a meeting that you can't over the phone. What is this, if not conscious separation?

But then, that's work. When do humans conditionally meet, with plans in place, and with a purpose that constitutes not so much utility as virtue or pleasure? When they socialise, as it were, in that crevice of time, between work and sleep. Now just look back at how often you've made and canned such plans, to the point that it's now a running joke. Because you or they were lazy, disinclined, uninterested, had an early morning (at work), had a late night (at work)… All of it bundled under "too tired". Yes commute's a bitch, to begin with.

Or the time-space permutation/combination of everyone involved in the plan hasn't matched, and they never do. I'm in friends' WhatsApp groups with names like 'Planetary Alignment', signifying the lack of it, when it comes to meeting up. It's not that we aren't familiar with all there's to know about each other's life though.

It's probably being discussed on the same cluster-f*** of a Whatsapp group (or on Facebook/Twitter/Insta etc), pinging non-stop through the evening that we couldn't meet. That is, before everyone goes back to Netflix to soldier on for a whole season of a series, over a single sitting, when not rummaging through hours on YouTube. What is this if not a self-imposed lockdown?

And I'm talking about the millennial/gen-x type 'cusp-generation' that got primarily raised BC (Before Cellphones). What about gen-z (born between mid-to-late 1990s, and early 2010s)? Have heard parents complain about how they have to literally push/force the hell outta their kids to go out, and play! It was the reverse when that parent was growing up with society/colony kids — in the evenings, shitting bricks getting home late after play! Hoping no 'curfew' is imposed as a result.

Is it the same with those in their hormonal teens? Have anecdotal evidence to believe they're going through entire cycles of romance/relationship — from a match (on a dating app), sexting, benching, ghosting, to an eventual break-up — without having once met the current object of their desire, let alone knowing them better!

As for those older, no we haven't stopped taking holidays. You're either a mountain or beach person (or both), since the third category, forest, doesn't exist anymore. You step out to get closer to nature (besides post images on Insta). I wanna see how many can survive these trips, for how long, without WiFi! Don't lie.

This is cellphone proximity, achieved through physical isolation. It throws up gregarious, extroverted online personalities, who are totally shy, and introverted, offline. It fosters bonds without the baggage of social expectations. It gets family and friends fully pissed off — because all you do, even when you're out with them, is sporadically bury your face on a lit screen, without caring once for the person, sitting in flesh, right opposite.

Screw this etiquette shit, though. I'm more of a big-city person, drawn to anonymity in huge crowds. Took my life's first such solo-trip only a few months ago. Didn't feel for a second that I was by myself. The whole time duly attached to my iPhone — the umbilical cord to the physical world. Plan to do this more often. What's social distancing, again?

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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