Historically, the end-of-year is a time when many pause to reflect upon the dozen months past, “audit” our experiences, gains, deficits, and even potential losses, and often create future “resolutions” for the next twelve to come. In response to the unprecedented global pandemic which ambushed our world in 2020-2021, the past year and a half has been, for more than many of us (dare I propose all?), a beyond challenging period of compulsory contemplation, consideration, change… and ultimate acceptance. Atlas appeared to have actually and suddenly “shrugged” with our world and all who inhabit it forced to perpetually adapt to navigate the ever-changing axis tilt.
I feel pretty confident in my hypothesis that no one has been left unchanged.
But as 2021 now rapidly approaches its close, and we begin adding events to our 2022 iCals, there is once again hope that our world will once again return to whatever “new normal” continues to emerge. We of course cannot go back, or undo what we experienced and ultimately confronted, and our losses were certainly beyond measure. As we undoubtedly spend years-possibly even decades attempting to discuss, investigate, study, make some sense, heal, and each in our own time move forward from the pandemic event, the proverb “Hindsight is 20/20” will now and forever feel quite literal.
During our forced time in confinement, with the opportunities of conventional distractions stripped away, it sometimes may have felt like one protracted-and painfully uncertain-long season of uncomfortable reflection. Left both without the crutches of customary deflections to divert us and thus also literally then to our own “devices,” we were forced to pause… and think… and contemplate, consider, pivot, adapt, innovate, choose, change… and in the worst of it, mourn. With our information and social support suddenly primarily dependent upon digitally mediated platform sources instead of IRL connections, the media also assumed a more significant power than ever before.
We navigated our screen choices while simultaneously drowning in a seemingly “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”-esque time-collapsed, non-stop, and unstoppable perpetual email tsunami. We struggled to learn and master the best video platform filters (and lighting!), via Slack, BlueJeans, WebEx, RingCentral, Skype, Jitsi, Teams, and Google Meets, as those platforms equally strained to meet the new demand. We battled increasingly draining Zoom meeting fatigue but also created welcomed new video-based support and workgroups with friends, family, and colleagues.
As media psychologists, we were invited and arguably even mandated to utilize our skills and knowledge to try and help mediate the overwhelming saturation, cacophonous Inter-noise, and reactions/responses to it. Given the 24/7 uninterrupted waves of content being shared (including information alleged as controversial, conflicting, or even alleged to have been purposely created to incite) and the temptation to just “doomscroll” the seemingly endless time away, it was certainly a struggle. But our digitally dependent sourcing also created a tremendous opportunity for us-as specialized experts who have chosen to learn, observe, explore, expand, investigate, critically analyze, and inform-to step up, and step in.
Covid, politics, and social justice generating online eruptions leading to IRL non-negotiable calls for necessary change, in tandem with seemingly partisan-free obsessions with sourdough, Bella Poarch, chess, color-blind passions of British aristocrats, GameStop short squeeze, a would-be “ ’Tiger King,’ ‘The Hunger Games’ played on horrifying ‘Sesame Streets’ in Korea,” that brain-sucking but inescapable “Baby Shark” theme, Fighting the Cold War with Black Ops, finally learning how to correctly spell Billie Eilish, and, of course, the confinement catalyzed online migration of even the most previously reticent Digital Immigrants (certainly new-stress factor inducing, but also sometimes hilarious; i.e., my personal favorite: #IAmNotACatLawyer), were just a few of myriad media hot topics offered to us for viewing, reviewing, and discussion.
Newly exposed more potentially nefarious information, warnings, and allegations surrounding social media policies, college admissions, cultural inequity, privilege vs. prejudice, online privacy protection, immigration procedures, sexual harassment, cryptocurrencies, elite athlete mental health, mental health in general, and the future of our planet were all digitally mediated “stories” literally delivered straight into our hands via our portable devices.
As we begin to emerge from what some experts are calling “pandemic cave syndrome” (Newsome, 2021), learning to renavigate our IRL world has already begun to present its own unique challenges. Internet wars surrounding vaccinations, how our increased online engagement use and utilization (without really understanding tracking and hacking) potentially compromised our personal data, information breaches, isolation, (or conversely 24/7 cohabitation with others), emerging consequences of online academic inequities due to the very real digital divide, anxiety, stress, depression, fear, economics, grief, loss, “comparing and despairing,” and promoting, continuing, and maintaining good, right, and corrective social change, are just a few of the unexpected pandemic pause variables which we must now face and address.
The Stay-At-Home order-driven, but now-and-forever digitally supported changes and opportunities across education, work, commerce, talent/skill exposure, delivery services, and social connections, will now always be choices to be negotiated and made. Whether reassigned as we re-emerge as merely confinement-caused forced adaptions (perhaps previously resisted, rejected, unavailable, or even unknown) across all silos of life or retained as new lifestyle behavioral adoptions, of course, remains to be seen.
I have encouraged my clients, friends, and family members, however, to not throw the virtual baby out with the bathwater. In other words, although we must now all remember, return, and reclaim the positive virtue, value, and valency of IRL living, I also deeply endorse retaining the wonderful new rituals and routines which emerged during our confinement. Family game nights, regular video platform supported calls with distal friends, relatives, and colleague groups whose geography impedes physical gatherings, device-free meals, online explorations of otherwise inaccessible places, video-delivered career, academic, and home task support, and experiencing new people, cultures, arts, creations, experiences, thoughts, and ideologies with an open-minded generosity are, I hope, “silver linings” of an otherwise “annus+ horribilus.”
I believe another vital takeaway (especially when considering beliefs, opinions, and views that may feel supremely unsettling… uncomfortable… unbelievable… or even unacceptable to your own) lies in what Covid-19 so cruelly taught us: At our core, each of us on this planet is, in truth, equal and the same. Just like addiction… or those uninvited (and certainly unwelcomed) aliens from “Independence Day”… or a deadly virus, when targeted by a non-human-based predator, every mortal on our beloved earth is EACH AND ALL a non-prejudicially viewed vulnerable, viable, and susceptible target-no difference between us is determined by a non-human enemy.
In support of the gift of being human, I offer another example we singularly share: love. I encourage all of us to remember our mutually shared vulnerabilities, but also cling closely to that love which, even in the hardest of times, has ultimately-and even with the cost of unfathomable loss- proven itself undefeatable.
With all that said, like the title of “Star Wars: Episode IV,” I must-and do-believe we have passed the nadir infection point, and that “A New Hope” is here. But whatever the future has in store, as Media Psychologists our own is now crystal clear. Our time is now, and as we stand on the broad-minded shoulders of the brilliant pioneers, innovators, visionaries, thought leaders, researchers, and scholars who created, developed, and built the foundation of our field, we are perfectly poised with a spectacular view of our important and exciting work ahead.
I want to take this opportunity to thank you for electing me to lead our tremendous Division. As we move out of the past dark season and into whatever “chapter” comes next, there is certainly much for us to discuss and do. I am both humbled and honored by your trust, excited to serve you in 2022, and look so forward to hopefully seeing all of you IRL once again next August in Minneapolis!
Newsome, M. (2021, May 3). ‘Cave syndrome’ keeps the vaccinated in social isolation. Scientific American. Retrieved October 17, 2021, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/cave-syndrome-keeps-the-vaccinated-in-social-isolation1/#:~:text=Alan%20Teo%2C%20an%20associate%20professor,people%20over%2C%E2%80%9D%20he%20says