This has been a year of extreme social deprivation. But the pandemic — like all pandemics before it — eventually will end. Then what? Will we easily transition from isolation back into the real world? For most of us, the answer probably is yes, although it may take time to adapt, according to social scientists who study human behavior.
“Social skills are like a muscle,” says Richard Slatcher, a professor of psychology at the University of Georgia who studies the effects of relationships on health and well-being. “If we are out of practice, it will take a while to get back on the social bike, if you will, and ride it again. It has now become second nature to keep your guard up. We’re habituated to this new normal, so it will take a while to return to the old normal.”
Nevertheless, scientists predict that after many more Americans are vaccinated, society might resemble what followed in the aftermath of the 1918 influenza pandemic, a decade known as the Roaring Twenties, an age striking in its excesses. There were flappers, jazz-age partying, Prohibition (and the flouting of it), working women (with their newly won right to vote), flourishing cities, sexual freedom and gangsters, all fueled by a booming economy.
“It was the biggest street party of all time,” says Robin Dunbar, emeritus fellow, Magdalen College, and professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Oxford. “I’m sure it will happen again. Who knows what form it will take, but it will surely result in a resurgence of social events, including concert-type gigs, but also just more meeting up in the pub.”
Slatcher offers a similar prediction. “People have been cooped up for a long period of time,” he says. “We could be living through the Roaring Twenties again — this time, the Roaring 2020s.”
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