In an essay published last week in The Point magazine, Justin EH Smith, a professor of history and philosophy at the University of Paris, made an interesting observation about life in quarantine. Without downplaying the tragedies of the current pandemic, Smith, who is “fairly sure” he is experiencing symptoms of Covid-19 as he writes, observes “there is liberation in this suspension of more or less everything”.
“Any fashion, sensibility, ideology, set of priorities, worldview or hobby that you acquired prior to March 2020, and that may have by then started to seem to you cumbersome, dull, inauthentic, a drag: you are no longer beholden to it,” he writes. “You can cast it off entirely and no one will care; likely, no one will notice.”
For Smith, what has come to ring false is his book – a work in progress on the deleterious effects of the internet on community, a subject he’s lost passion for as Zoom and FaceTime prove that sometimes, technology is the only thing that can keep us together.
As Smith implies, disruption and isolation have a way of encouraging us to electively re-evaluate our lives – and that can be generative.
Out of curiosity, I briefly surveyed friends and colleagues on whether they have abandoned habits or behaviors during this pandemic they have no interest in resuming. Many have.
Some who replied to me said they made social resolutions, vowing to care less about ladder-climbing, which seems suddenly inane, or to cut frustrating people out of their lives: “[This time has] helped me cull my channels and unfollow people posting anything false, toxic, xenophobic or racist in regards to Covid and social distancing measures,” said one.
A friend told me the imperative to not touch his face finally helped him break a decades-old nail-biting habit. Another, a self-professed “big online shopper”, has gone cold turkey on luxury consumerism and hopes to never resume her blithe ordering of designer clothes again. “I really don’t need more things. I don’t need a Louis Vuitton purse,” she admitted.
On the news, I read about everything from “Covidivorces” to society’s collective disenchantment with celebrity during the pandemic. For everything that’s become inaccessible to us, there’s something else we’re simply over.
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