Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Social Distancing - A Misnomer?

“Not enough storage space.”

That’s my phone speaking to me.

When I try to click a picture, it says, “Clear some space and try again”.  And it’s been telling me this, again and again, since yesterday evening.

Inundated with a million messages, bombarded by a billion buddies, my phone memory must be bursting at the seams; or bursting at whatever the chip’s corners are called, these days, in scientific parlance.

Well-intentioned relatives want me to know how this COVID 19 spreads. Well-informed acquaintances want me to try to ‘flatten the curve’. Well-wishing friends want me to cheer up, and smile in these difficult times.

So, from jokes to memes, from parody songs to comedy quotes, from a thousand suggestions to prevent COVID 19, to a hundred medications to fight the outbreak, I keep getting new messages faster than I could delete the old ones.

Those afflicted with this raging new malady, of social sharing on telecom networks, are probably simply taking revenge. Maybe their phone memory chips are getting filled, and they are quickly passing its content on to others. Maybe their fingers are just wandering about on keyboards that are not 'locked down’.

Which brings me to the key issue I wish to address, in this column today – social distancing.

Is it really the right term?  Does it really mean what it does?

This has been bothering me. And, I am sure, it must have been bothering many other like-minded victims suffering from an acute shortage of phone-memory. And others too.

Tell me, can we ‘really’ keep 'social distance'?

We must admit, we are unable to distance ourselves from all those contacts who are tracing us; and forwarding us those audio-video clips, and those gif-jpeg images.

I am socially connected to all my friends. Almost always. Even though one is staying farthest, near the North Pole in Norway, and one is sailing on a ship to a station in Antarctica, I cannot distance myself from either of them.

On social media, I get to see their posts on whether polar bears or penguins have any chance of getting affected by a mutant coronavirus strain. Will it get passed on from humans living in those parts. On their WhatsApp messages, I see their thoughts within seconds. In fact, in real-time, I see if ‘they are typing’ now.

So, shouldn’t the term be ‘physical distancing’ actually?

I seriously think, like many others, that the correct term to use these days is ‘physical distancing’ and not ‘social distancing’.

Language-challenged lexicographers may be rare, but there is no shortage of verbally-confused world leaders. So, we all, like sheep, have gone astray; and are readily calling a spade a shovel.

We all know that vegetarians eat vegetables. But do humanitarians eat humans?

No. That's a case in point, to show how we often deny distinguishing the terms. And grow and accept their usage, over time.

‘Man is by nature a social animal’, said Aristotle some 2400 years ago.

But what would Aristotle call man today, seeing that man is now endowed with enormous power; thanks to a palm-top device, with social media apps, that gives him global connectivity?

Communicating with his fellow beings is something man is unlikely to stop; mainly because physical proximity is no longer an impediment with today’s technology.

It is that innate social connectivity that a man desires which makes 'solitary confinement' in jails such a dreaded punishment.

Thanks to social media, the term 'posts going 'viral’' is now clearly understood by today’s generation.

But then, 'fear' and 'happiness' are both contagious too. And social media communication can make them go viral as well.

To stop the real virus-spread, physical distancing is needed. But to stop the ‘fear’, perhaps, social distancing is needed. But then, think again. We need not distance ourselves, socially, if we want to spread ‘happiness’. In fact, social closeness can spread happiness faster.

So, if you see me sending you forwards, please excuse me.

Maybe I just contracted one of these novel network-bourne ailments.

And, hopefully, it's the better one.

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