Social distortion

Our editor on the regression happening to everyone courtesy of COVID-19

As we are forced to sit at home and wait out a virus sweeping the world, watching the mental effects of social isolation might be nearly as bad as the virus itself. | Image: Josh Kahen

According to epidemiologists and government officials, we haven’t reached the peak of this virus in this country, and already we’re experiencing burnout.

For weeks now, we’ve been instructed to remain inside our homes, which, if I were single with no children, I probably would enjoy more. 

But because I’m here each day with two toddlers who don’t understand that undivided attention can’t happen because their parents are virtually trying to work full-time jobs – which we hope remain full-time – it’s a scary thought to know that this is our collective future. Schools are closed indefinitely, and the minimal homeschooling we can do in between taking conference calls or writing another email just isn’t enough. 

It’s literally heartbreaking for me to watch their little brains regress from watching Frozen II for the 97th time or as they view God knows what content on an iPad for hours on end. I’m watching regression, confusion and frustration happen on a daily basis but I’m too busy to do anything about it. 

We’ve never been more reliant on technology than we are when it’s the only thing to pass the time. But it’s also a curse. All-day at home, we’re being pumped full of coronavirus news and updates on confirmed cases, the death counts and the short supply of resources to keep the ones who care for our nation’s sick safe. Then, on the occasion where we have to venture out for food or fresh air, there’s this weird reticence to acknowledge other people. 

I was at a pharmacy drive-thru on Monday and the cashier came to the window with gloves and a face mask on. He barely said hello, mumbled the information needed to verify my prescription and then literally dropped the bag into my hand and slid the window closed. Grocery stores are Twilight Zone operations filled with people wearing makeshift masks and Latex gloves. Everyone is afraid to get too close to each other wondering if this is six feet or not and don’t tell me you aren’t constantly thinking about what you’re touching.

“It’s literally heartbreaking for me to watch their little brains regress from watching Frozen II for the 97th time or as they view God knows what content on an iPad for hours on end. I’m watching regression, confusion and frustration happen on a daily basis but I’m too busy to do anything about it.”

The words we have to use to describe this are alienating by their very nature. Self-isolation. Quarantine. Virtual. Social distancing. Our smartphones have made face-to-face interactions truly a secondary option, and, yes, I wonder if the fallout from COVID-19 might drive us all further apart. We barely acknowledge people as is, will the aftermath of this virus all but eradicate human contact from the ones we actually do acknowledge? 

Admit it, it’s going to be a while even when the coast becomes clear where people will feel comfortable giving handshakes, or hugging or a kiss. How will this affect singles looking for love on dating sites and apps? Pretty sure no one is excited about matching on Tinder and meeting up now, and I feel pretty confident that it’ll be a minute before the comfort returns of meeting a stranger online and going back to their place. 

COVID-19 is as mental a bug as it is physical, infecting our collective mindsets with the knowledge that nothing is free from its clutches, and for most of us life as we know it has been irrevocably changed. 

I shouldn’t have to fear my mother’s house, giving her a hug and asking if she needs anything. But she’s nearly 70. Her risk of infection is great, and according to experts, just bringing over groceries could kill her. I think about that and then I think about the families of those in hospitals or nursing homes or senior communities unable to visit their loved ones. 

For me, having technology serve as the only way to show loved ones we care or to stay connected is perhaps one of the hardest parts of all of this. Well, that and the loss of daycare or the ability to hire a babysitter to get some damn reprieve. I mean tech was the main source of communication for many of us before this COVID jawn – but at least we had the option. 

Also, side note before I go. I’m baffled that I even have to write this, but there are a whole lot of people who think that disposing of their protective gloves or masks in parking lots, shopping carts and on the ground is a perfectly acceptable thing to do. Don’t believe me? If you live in the city, the next time you go for a stroll look around, I bet you don’t get two blocks without seeing one or the other laying on the ground. 

I don’t even need to explain how disgusting this is, but what I will divulge is that you are adding to the mental stress of essential workers who have to pick that shit up and dispose of it on your behalf. Why should a grocery store worker have to pick out your used gloves from a cart so someone else can use it? 

Stay safe (and smart), Philadelphia. Catch you all next week.  

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    Kerith Gabriel is the former editor-in-chief at Philadelphia Weekly but somehow hasn’t figured out that means he doesn’t have to write nearly as much. As a routine contributor, journalism has been in his blood since his beginnings as a sports writer over a decade ago for the Philadelphia Daily News.