Passive Psychological Harassment or Self-Actualization?: Zooming into the “New Normal”

Graphic by Kapp Singer

It’s the peak of lockdown—some hour in the blurry line between night and day. A coffee cup is left here, a half-eaten sandwich over there. As you emptily glance at each, you try to decide whether this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to finally bond with your household or just another day of psychological war. The only exciting thing you did all day was pinning (and fixating over) a Zoom crush, but that has also made you feel recklessly invasive. Once this ends, will it be distant not to hug the friends you’ve been seeing only as an image? Will it be irresponsible of you to actually hug them? There is no way to decide the boundaries of your or others’ personal space anymore. Internal and external balance are long gone. Everyone is everywhere. This is the “new normal.” Whether you want to or not, you’re getting used to it day by day. 

Nowadays, you constantly dwell in silence. Even in the “old normal,” it was hard to be close enough with someone that sitting in silence didn’t bother you. Well, it’s impossible now, since we don’t feel the need to leave our caves. Sharing a silence with friends was replaced with “fun,” relatable, and mostly conforming media content—it gave us a chance to escape by reflecting ourselves derail at home with dreadful accuracy. All of these weirdos were trapped inside, fighting for their long-gone personal space and trying to redetermine social boundaries.

We laughed with animalistic joy at crusader-costumed Bread Boys stabbing each other with toy swords as father and son. We liked Instagram captions such as “I barely talk to anyone anymore” that extolled the tranquility of isolation. We watched wayneradiotv’s HLVRAI (Half-Life VR but the AI is Self-Aware) series characters killing each other in interior places. Why on earth did we have so much fun watching these? 

We slowly registered the 21st century mindfulness movement, and it was failing our half-depressed states. We were forced to restart with a blank slate: eager to relearn (or learn) how to be an independent individual with inter- and intrapersonal boundaries. Thankfully, content creators were ready to fill this ambiguous emptiness for us. After all, economics doesn’t have the time to wait all day; motivation must come quick for more work. 

Political animals as we are, we needed to socialize at some  point—only to abandon our old forms of socialization and adopt the numbing screen displaying content making us go “Oh, yes, that’s me!” This was only further intensified by brand-new settings in enclosed spaces and indoor contexts. And, of course, the outdoors was carried inside: TikTok readaptations of 2000s dances in home corridors, maniacally clinking glasses with oneself in the bathroom mirror, or funny failures of “10 exercises to do in your living room.” 

As the post-COVID-19 revolution of place-human relationships will probably evolve in the media, maybe when we hear the word “freedom,” we’ll ponder instantaneously a person watching their favorite film on a comfortable coach after a long day of work, instead of the green forests and baby blue skies of the archetypal Microsoft background. The only thing left to wonder at this point is when we’ll impatiently anticipate the upcoming Netflix series with masks and social distancing.  

Sacrifices had to be made, though. The last profane protectors of our prolific popular culture, vloggers and influencers, unfortunately had quite a hard time finding purpose. Robbed of the ability to present us a novel cafe to visit, a drink to try, a brand to wear, or an event to daydream, their daily content was suddenly no longer interesting: what was it all for if we were going to sit at home all day anyway? Hanging on by a thread, their newly-acquired fame begged the question of their necessity for even the idlest teenager starving for the talking point of the week. At this point, the gates of opportunity—to escape from being passive figurines to become alpha actors of our own lives—seem to be open. Maybe our seats in the agreeing, applauding audience were  comfortable. Yet, as creators struggle still to transform their media content, the stage remains way emptier than before—waiting for us to jump right in by thinking for our individual selves and forcing us to make our own decisions. Hopefully, new hobbies we acquire in quasi-quarantine will be continued later, and help us explore our idiosyncratic places in the world. Maybe we’ll achieve further self-actualization after cooking a new dish successfully for the first time or coming close to acquiring a new language on the 45th streak day in Duolingo. Mobilized as it already was, the 21st century now moves even faster than ever before: in the split seconds spent between online museum visits and five-week challenges of obtaining a spick and span skill, knowledge is ready to spread quicker than even the virus itself. As we are nowadays between the stupefaction and secret, senseless pride of being the so-called witnesses of history, the burden of freedom falls heavily on our shoulders—leaving us with the responsibility to choose an undiscovered path.

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