The Old and New Normal

The old normal involved lots of bus, metro, and uber rides to meetings with sponsors, colleagues, and friends in pursuit of new opportunities, progress on existing opportunities, and just plain socializing.  Transit time was at least an hour per day and sometimes two, sitting in a bus, train, or car catching up on your email and often connecting by phone.  It seemed completely natural, perhaps even convenient.

In March 2020, almost a year ago, everything changed.  No more travel.  Skype, Teams, and Zoom became the neighborhood.  It was ok with people you knew, a bit more awkward with people you were just meeting.  Shared white boards seemed to help.  The loss of beers and margheritas at the end of the day was unfortunate.  That was when you learned whose kids played soccer, what sports teams were winning or losing, who liked gardening?  All gone.

The vaccines give us hope, but what will be the new normal?  How long will we persist with masks?  I can imagine being cautious for quite some time.  Not only masks, but social distancing and washing our hands.  We might pay more attention to healthy behaviors, as well as to less healthy behaviors, perhaps even less healthy eating behaviors.  More fruits and vegetables, and less chips and fries might prevail.

This begs the question of whether hunkering down during the pandemic was just a holding action or an opportunity to learn new practices.  I have certainly renewed my relationship with my wok and enjoyed experimenting with new oils and spices.  I like the results, although eating the same meal two days in a row is more acceptable than three days in a row.

Music is a good companion when cooking, but cannot compensate for compatriots at a pub, absorbing and debating the latest political, economic, and sporting news.  It is interesting to argue, albeit delicately, with people who disagree with your perspective, who have a very different life experience.  It is not only interesting; it also informs your world view.  Those people with whom you completely disagree are also fans of your sports teams!

I think pubs are perfect laboratories.  We host a pint, or equivalent, and cheer on something.  During the ads for beer or pickup trucks, we reflect on other stuff.  We relearn Rufus Mile’s maxum, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”  Only a few people embrace ridiculous positions.  Most people have very good reasons for their positions on economics and politics, often based on experiences we have never had.

This down to earth meet at the pub experience has become very complicated by social media.  Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp have created online worlds where everyone in this virtual pub completely agrees with you.  There are no divergent opinions to reflect on and digest.  All of your assertions are immediately embraced.  You soon realize that you are absolutely correct about everything.

So, what’s the new normal?  I sincerely hope we go back to meeting at the pub.  The inherent self-reinforcement of social media will only lead to pockets of completely self-convinced agreement on delusional perceptions and consensus.  Democracy requires conflicting perspectives and priorities.  This will not happen on social media.  It can easily happen at your neighborhood pub.  Let’s make that normal again.

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