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We (Will) Remain Social Animals

By Sylvia Galluser

The COVID-19 crisis has separated individuals in many ways, but even when distant, human beings are inventive at connecting. Along the human lifecycle from cradle to grave the pandemic has highlighted that we remain social animals, craving in-person interaction more than we expected. Technology has helped partially bridge the social distance gap, but in every age group we have heard cries for human connection.

Distance learning in early childhood education proved to be more than limiting. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is not a discipline that can be transmitted via an iPad. After only a couple of weeks, young children had reached the limits of their screen time acceptance: they wanted to meet, touch, and feel each other again. While we used to worry about our children’s tech consumption, we have since been inundated by reports of parents bribing their kids to sit them down in front of their virtual classroom! Screen-avoidance, tech-anxiety, and the loss of rituals, have hindered children in their experience of the world.

A future challenge will consist in smartly integrating the social-emotional component with a new half-distant, half-physical learning environment. Learning/working/befriending from home celebrated the ascent of Zoom… until individuals became overwhelmed with web meetings, virtual happy hours, and online lessons of yoga-sketching-you-name-it. Video conferencing tools still fail to convey the full range of our social interactions – deficient eye contact, altered voice tone, lip sync lag, reduced body language. Soon enough, our human selves yearned to return to greener pastures and natural parks, playing around the rules to hike in company. Conducting dating and mating strategies in a distant environment has raised strong frustrations with individuals defying bans to meet other humans in a physical space.

With the generalized lock-down, work-life balance has been reshuffled. Companies have required work-from-home without checking whether homes could provide a quiet workspace, consequently exposing spouses and children to work stressors and anxiety. The home has gone through a functional remodeling to adapt to the needs of multiple age groups with competing goals. The positive effects of refocusing on the nuclear family have been monitored. It used to be commonly accepted that you spend more time with colleagues you haven’t picked than with your family and friends, whereas we now hear about parents joyfully spending quality time with their children instead of sending them to myriad extracurricular activities.

Essential workers have shown us that not every job can be easily “AI-ed”: There is nothing as strong as a human smile to comfort a sick person.

Transparent masks have started to pop up on health workers’ faces to better display empathy. Mourning in a no-touch world has been nerve-racking for individuals seeing their loved ones depart with a wall of glass between them. Funerals over Zoom offered opportunities to renew this rite of passage with attendees from all over the world, but were at loss to replace the warmth of a live hug.

During the pandemic, our social nature has revealed itself to be stronger than ever. The reign of artificial general intelligence will have to wait a little longer.

Research Sources:

- "Promoting Early Childhood Social and Emotional Learning and Development", National Center for Healthy Safe Children:

- "Meeting the Sensory Needs of Young Children", National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC):

- "Trauma in Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic, NYU Langone Health:

- "Feeding Low-Income Children during the Covid-19 Pandemic", The New England Journal of Medicine:

- "Mental health and psychological resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic", World Health Organization:

- "Student Creates Transparent Masks for the Deaf and Hard-of-hearing Community", DesignBoom:

- "Blurred Boundaries: Work-Life Balance in the Time of COVID19", Healthy Work Now:

- "A Funeral, Reinvented for the Pandemic", The New York Times:

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