New Normal

The New Normal

Text by Achim Szymanski
(Ongoing series)

Lockdown, elbow-shakes, hotspots, social distancing, hygiene regulations, mandatory mask-wearing – this virus has not just changed our daily lives, but also our language. Masks are some of the tools to curb the spread of the virus. How is life with them? And how do they affect our communication?

When you look at Thailand, masked people were already part of the daily scene in the streets, everyone also participates in the measures to rid oneself of the virus without being asked and with discipline.

It can be quite diverting to walk around in masks – it makes you slightly inscrutable, somewhat invisible and almost always mysterious. But sometimes, masks do get a bit annoying in day-to-day life. This led many people to not feel understood in their masks, to skulk through supermarkets silently, not uttering a single word – they don’t know what to say. But why? And what can we do against it?

The cause is this: time is money, so people usually want to communicate their thoughts as quickly as possible. This leads to people talking quickly, hastily and unclearly and finally makes people do something you hear a lot in reality TV shows: they mumble.

People mumble every day and communication is even worse in this Covid crisis. Shops, offices, streets – people everywhere keep asking their conversational partners to repeat themselves, because they could not understand what was said. And the more people are not understood, the more indignant they get. The consequence is that in this Corona crisis, people talk less to each other and language atrophies.

Masks can be used to communicate one’s attitude. Medical face masks accent one’s concern and responsibility towards other people. And you can use language in this crisis, too – with inscriptions, logos or symbols on the mask to show that you have a message.

But you cannot see through someone’s mask what they might be thinking or what their facial expression is when speaking (or mumbling) through it. So, when talking during the Coronavirus pandemic, the eyes and the rest of one’s body language must increase their efficacy. That means that you must put a little more effort into communicating during the crisis.

If you cannot hug people, instead hug with your eyes. Be attentive. Be considerate. Show that you care for one another. And how to protect others. There’s kindness behind all of this. And everything will be, as it is not yet.

What we cannot change, however, is that many now call these developments “The New Normal”. This sounds, I feel, very scarily serious. Because the subconscious does not distinguish between “normality” and “reality”, I would have preferred a different phrasing from the government. Coronavirus crisis aside – there should have been a more cautious – and more inventive – way of calling things.

The woman who always smiles now wears a mask, but her eyes carry on smiling. And the new normal will soon be old. The outside only changes its appearance.